Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Guatemalan Civil War

Guatemalan Civil War

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Guatemalan Civil War
Part of Cold War
Rabinal cross.jpg
Cemetery in Rabinal
ResultPeace accord signed in 1996
Guerrilla Army of the Poor
Revolutionary Organization of Armed People
Rebel Armed Forces
Guatemalan Labor Party
Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity
Flag of Guatemala.svgGuatemalan Government
Rolando Morán
The Guatemalan Civil War, the longest civil war in Latin American history, ran from 1960 to 1996. It had a profound impact on Guatemala.
Several thousand people disappeared during the war and approximately 200,000 were killed. Felipe Cusanero became the first person to be sentenced for this in 2009 when he received a 150-year jail-term, 25 years for each of his six missing victims. This was hailed a landmark prison sentence in Guatemala.




[edit]Origins and background

The war was predominantly fought between the government of Guatemala and insurgents between 1960 and 1996.
The Historical Clarification Commission writes that Guatemalan military influence over the government passed through different stages during the years of the armed confrontation. It began during the 1960s and 1970s with the army’s domination of the structures of the executive branch. The army subsequently assumed almost absolute power for half a decade during the 1980s, by penetrating all of the country’s institutions, as well as its political, social and ideological spheres; in the later final stage of the confrontation, it developed a parallel, semi-visible, low profile, but high impact, control of national life. In the military itself, the Guatemalan military intelligence system became the driving force, to control the population, the society, the state and the army itself.[1]

[edit]Early years of conflict (1960 to 1980)

In the first phase of the conflict, mainly the 1960s, the "insurrection" was led by middle-class intellectuals and students (Guatemalan Party of Labour – PGT), who had a mostly urban base and who were easily defeated militarily by an army that was trained by US soldiers and the CIA.
In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of General Ydigoras Fuentes, who took power in 1958 following the murder of Colonel Castillo Armas, a group of junior military officers from the Escuela Politecnica (military academy) revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with the Cuban government. This group became the nucleus of the forces that were in armed insurrection against the government for the next 36 years.[2] The guerrilla organization was known as Revolutionary Movement 13th November (MR-13), named after the day of the insurrection. The MR-13 based its operations in the countryside, deep in the mountainous southeastern region of the country (IzabalPuerto BarriosZacapa), or the "Oriente" (East) as it is known in the country. Green Berets were deployed and served as trainers to fight these organizations.
In November 1965, U.S. security adviser John P. Longan arrived in the country, and worked with elite members in the Guatemalan army to set up a death squad operating under the name "Operation Cleanup" that throughout 1966 conducted a series of kidnappings and assassinations in what professor of history Greg Grandin has described as "the first systematic wave of collective counterinsurgent 'disappearances' in Latin America." Among the victims were the respective leaders of Guatemala's labor and peasant federations during the tenure of Arbenz.[3] Shortly after President Julio César Méndez Montenegro took office in 1966, the army launched a major counterinsurgency campaign that largely broke up the guerrilla movement in the countryside. The guerrillas, including the Rebel Armed Forces, then concentrated their attacks in Guatemala City, where they assassinated many leading figures, including United States Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968.
The third phase of the war happened during the 1970s when old and new organizations joined the fight against the military governments that by then were the rule. The war, at this stage, was fought on both fronts: urban and rural, especially in the Mayan Highlands.

[edit]"Total War"

[edit]Burning of the Spanish Embassy

On the morning of 31 January 1980, a group of K'iche' and Ixil peasant farmers occupied the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City to protest the kidnapping and murder of peasants in Uspantán by elements of the Guatemalan Army. The subsequent police raid, over the protests of the Spanish ambassador, resulted in a fire which destroyed the embassy and left 36 people dead. Spain severed its diplomatic relations with Guatemala for four years. The funeral of the victims (including as yet obscure Rigoberta Menchú's father, Vicente Menchú), attracted hundreds of thousands of mourners, and a new guerilla group was formed commemorating the date, the Frente patriotico 31 de enero (Popular Front of 31 January). The incident has been called "the defining event" of the Guatemalan Civil War.[4]

[edit]Ríos Montt's conscript army and increased violence

On 23 March 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers staged a coup d'état to prevent the assumption of power by General Ángel Aníbal Guevara, the hand-picked candidate of outgoing President and General Romeo Lucas García. They denounced Guevara's electoral victory as fraudulent. The coup leaders asked retired General Efraín Ríos Montt to negotiate the departure of Lucas and Guevara. Ríos Montt had been the candidate of theChristian Democracy Party in the 1974 presidential election and was widely regarded as having been denied his own victory through fraud.
Ríos Montt was by this time a lay pastor in the evangelical protestant Church of the Word. In his inaugural address, he stated that his presidency resulted from the will of God. He was widely perceived as having strong backing from the Reagan administration in the United States. He formed a three-member military junta that annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress, suspended political parties and cancelled the electoral law. After a few months, Ríos Montt dismissed his junta colleagues and assumed the de facto title of "President of the Republic".
Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies denounced Ríos Montt. Ríos Montt sought to defeat the guerrillas with military actions and economic reforms; in his words, "rifles and beans". In May 1982, the Conference of Catholic Bishops accused Ríos Montt of responsibility for growing militarization of the country and for continuing military massacres of civilians. An army officer was quoted in the New York Times of 18 July 1982 as telling an audience of indigenous Guatemalans in Cunén that: "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you."[5] The Plan de Sánchez massacre occurred on the same day.
The government began to form local civilian defense patrols (PACs). Participation was in theory voluntary, but in practice, many people, especially in the rural northwest, had no choice but to join either the PACs or the guerrillas. Ríos Montt's conscript army and PACs recaptured essentially all guerrilla territory – guerrilla activity lessened and was largely limited to hit-and-run operations. However, Ríos Montt won this partial victory only at an enormous cost in civilian deaths.
Ríos Montt's brief presidency was probably the most violent period of the 36-year internal conflict, which resulted in thousands of deaths of mostly unarmed indigenous civilians. Political scientist Piero Gleijeses writes that "excesses were committed by the guerrillas, but the voluminous evidence from Amnesty InternationalAmericas Watch, and other human rights organizations, as well as from observers, is conclusive: the immense majority of the killings were committed by the Guatemalan army".[6]

[edit]Resumption of democracy

Ríos Montt was deposed on 8 August 1983 by his Minister of Defense, General Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores. Mejía became de facto president and justified the coup, saying that "religious fanatics" were abusing their positions in the government and also because of "official corruption". Ríos Montt remained in politics, founded the Guatemalan Republican Front party, and was elected President of Congress in 1995 and 2000.[2]
In 1983, indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú wrote a "testimonial" account, I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala, which gained worldwide attention. She was later awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in favor of broader social justice. In 1998 a book by U.S. anthropologist David Stoll challenged some of the details in Menchú's book, creating an international controversy.[7]

[edit]Cerezo Administration: New Constitution, but continued violence

General Mejía allowed a return to democracy in Guatemala. On 1 July 1984 there was an election for a Constituent Assembly to draft a democratic constitution. On 30 May 1985 the Constituent Assembly finished drafting anew constitution, which took effect immediately. Vinicio Cerezo, a civilian politician and the presidential candidate of the Guatemalan Christian Democracy, won the first election held under the new constitution with almost 70% of the vote, and took office on 14 January 1986. It took, however, another 10 years of conflict, before there was an end to the violence.[2]
Historian Susanne Jonas writes that while "the Reagan State Department cheerfully proclaimed Guatemala a "consolidated"/"post-transitional" democracy after nothing more than the 1985 election. More sober academic analysts attempting to include Guatemala in the "democratic family" had to resort to inventing new categories of democracy (restricted, pseudo-, "tutelada," "facade," "democradura," etc.). Jonas claims that "for the most part from 1986 through 1995, civilian presidents allowed the army to rule from behind the scenes."[8]
Upon its inauguration in January 1986, President Cerezo's civilian government announced that its top priorities would be to end the political violence and establish the rule of law. Reforms included new laws of habeas corpusand amparo (court-ordered protection), the creation of a legislative human rights committee, and the establishment in 1987 of the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman. The Supreme Court also embarked on a series of reforms to fight corruption and improve legal system efficiency.
With Cerezo's election, the military moved away from governing and returned to the more traditional role of providing internal security, specifically by fighting armed insurgents. The first two years of Cerezo's administration were characterized by a stable economy and a marked decrease in political violence. Dissatisfied military personnel made two coup attempts in May 1988 and May 1989, but military leadership supported the constitutional order. The government was heavily criticized for its unwillingness to investigate or prosecute cases of human rights violations.
The final two years of Cerezo's government also were marked by a failing economy, strikes, protest marches, and allegations of widespread corruption. The government's inability to deal with many of the nation's problems – such as infant mortality, illiteracy, deficient health and social services, and rising levels of violence – contributed to popular discontent.
Presidential and congressional elections were held on 11 November 1990. After the second-round ballot, Jorge Antonio Serrano Elías was inaugurated on 14 January 1991, thus completing the first transition from one democratically elected civilian government to another. Because his Movement of Solidarity Action (MAS) Party gained only 18 of 116 seats in Congress, Serrano entered into a tenuous alliance with the Christian Democrats and the National Union of the Center (UCN).
The Serrano administration's record was mixed. It had some success in consolidating civilian control over the army, replacing a number of senior officers and persuading the military to participate in peace talks with the URNG. He took the politically unpopular step of recognizing the sovereignty of Belize, which until then had been officially, though fruitlessly, claimed by Guatemala. The Serrano government reversed the economic slide it inherited, reducing inflation and boosting real growth.

[edit]Serrano government dissolution and recovery

On 25 May 1993, Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court and tried to restrict civil freedoms, allegedly to fight corruption. The autogolpe (or autocoup) failed due to unified, strong protests by most elements of Guatemalan society, international pressure, and the army's enforcement of the decisions of the Court of Constitutionality, which ruled against the attempted takeover. In the face of this pressure, Serrano fled the country. An Intelligence Oversight Board report states that the CIA helped in stopping this autocoup.[9]
On 5 June 1993, Congress, pursuant to the 1985 constitution, elected the Human Rights Ombudsman, Ramiro de León Carpio, to complete Serrano's presidential term. De León was not a member of any political party; lacking a political base but with strong popular support, he launched an ambitious anticorruption campaign to "purify" Congress and the Supreme Court, demanding the resignations of all members of the two bodies.
Despite considerable congressional resistance, presidential and popular pressure led to a November 1993 agreement brokered by the Catholic Church between the administration and Congress. This package of constitutional reforms was approved by popular referendum on 30 January 1994. In August 1994, a new Congress was elected to complete the unexpired term. Controlled by the anti-corruption parties – the populist Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) headed by Ríos Montt, and the center-right National Advancement Party (PAN) – the new Congress began to move away from the corruption that characterized its predecessors.

[edit]Renewed peace process (1994 to 1996)

Under de León, the peace process, now brokered by the United Nations, took on new life. The government and the URNG signed agreements on human rights (March 1994), resettlement of displaced persons (June 1994), historical clarification (June 1994), and indigenous rights (March 1995). They also made significant progress on a socioeconomic and agrarian agreement.
National elections for president, Congress, and municipal offices were held in November 1995. With almost 20 parties competing in the first round, the presidential election came down to a 7 January 1996 run-off in which PAN candidate Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen defeated Alfonso Portillo Cabrera of the FRG by just over 2% of the vote. Arzú won because of his strength in Guatemala City, where he had previously served as mayor, and in the surrounding urban area. Portillo won all of the rural departments except Petén.
Under the Arzú administration, peace negotiations were concluded, and the government and the guerrilla umbrella organization URNG, which become a legal party, signed peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict in December 1996. The General Secretary of the URNG, Comandante Rolando Morán, and President Álvaro Arzú jointly received the UNESCO Peace Prize for their efforts to end the civil war and attaining the peace agreement.


[edit]Human rights abuses

By the end of the war, 200,000 people had been killed.[10]
The internal conflict is described in the report of the Archbishop's Office for Human Rights (ODHAG). ODHAG attributed almost 90% of the atrocities and over 400 massacres to the Guatemalan army (and paramilitary), and less than 5% of the atrocities to the guerrillas (including 16 massacres).
In a report in 1999, the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) stated that the state was responsible for 93% of the human rights violations committed during the war, the guerrillas for 3%.[11] They peaked in 1982. 83% of the victims were Maya.[12] Both sides used terror as a deliberate policy.[1]
Guatemalan intelligence was directed and executed mainly by two bodies: One the Intelligence Section of the Army, subsequently called Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the National Defense and generally known as "D-2". The other the intelligence unit called Presidential Security Department, also known as "La Regional" or the "Archivo". The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated that the intelligence services in Guatemala have been responsible for multiple human rights violations.[13] The Truth Commission writes that their activity included the "use of illegal detention centres or 'clandestine prisons', which existed in nearly all Army facilities, in many police installations and even in homes and on other private premises. In these places, victims were not only deprived of their liberty arbitrarily, but they were almost always subjected to interrogation, accompanied by torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the majority of cases, the detainees were disappeared or executed."[1]
The CEH stated that at no time during the internal armed confrontation did the guerrilla groups have the military potential necessary to pose an imminent threat to the State. The number of insurgent combatants was too small to be able to compete in the military arena with the Army, which had more troops and superior weaponry, as well as better training and co-ordination. The State and the Army were well aware that the insurgents’ military capacity did not represent a real threat to Guatemala’s political order. The CEH concludes that the State deliberately magnified the military threat of the insurgency, a practise justified by the concept of the internal enemy. The inclusion of all opponents under one banner, democratic or otherwise, pacifist or guerrilla, legal or illegal, communist or non-communist, served to justify numerous and serious crimes. Faced with widespread political, socio-economic and cultural opposition, the State resorted to military operations directed towards the physical annihilation or absolute intimidation of this opposition, through a plan of repression carried out mainly by the Army and national security forces. On this basis the CEH explains why the vast majority of the victims of the acts committed by the State were not combatants in guerrilla groups, but civilians.[1]
David Stoll has argued that the guerrillas often deliberately provoked army atrocities as a tactic for galvanizing popular support.[7]
For more than two decades Human Rights Watch has reported on Guatemala.[14] A report from 1984 discussed “the murder of thousands by a military government that maintains its authority by terror.[15] HRW have described extraordinarily cruel actions by the armed forces, mostly against unarmed civilians.[14] One example given is the massacre of over 160 civilians by government soldiers in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982. The abuses included “burying some alive in the village well, killing infants by slamming their heads against walls, keeping young women alive to be raped over the course of three days. This was not an isolated incident. Rather it was one of over 400 massacres documented by the truth commission – some of which, according to the commission, constituted "acts of genocide."[14]


In 1999, paramilitary Candido Noriega was jailed for fifty years for his role in the deaths of dozens whilst employed by the Guatemalan army.[16]
In August 2009, a court in Chimaltenango sentenced Felipe Cusanero, a local farmer, who was part of a network of paramilitaries who gave information about suspected leftists living in their villages to the army during Guatemala's counterinsurgency campaign, to 150 years for his part in the disappearance of half a dozen indigenous members of a Mayan farming community over the two-year period of 1982–1984.[16][17][18] He was the first person to ever be convicted for carrying out acts of forced disappearance during the Civil War.[17][18][19] He appeared before three judges to face his sentence.[19] He received a 25-year prison sentence for each of his victims.[16][17] It was hailed as a "landmark" sentence.[16][17][18] Hilarion López, the father of one of the victims, said: "We weren't looking for vengeance but for the truth and justice".[17][19] The families have called on Cusanero to tell them where their bodies are.[16] Cusanero was photographed being carried away by police afterwards.[16]

[edit]U.S. involvement

Declassified CIA documents[20] show that the United States was instrumental in organizing, funding, and equipping the 1954 coup which toppled Guatemala's democratically elected government. Analysts Kate Doyle and Peter Kornbluh allege that "After a small insurgency developed in the wake of the coup, Guatemala's military leaders developed and refined, with U.S. assistance, a massive counterinsurgency campaign that left tens of thousands massacred, maimed or missing." Professor of History, Stephen G. Rabe, writes in "In destroying the popularly elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman (1950–1954), the United States initiated a nearly four-decade-long cycle of terror and repression."[21]
After the U.S.-backed coup, which toppled President Jacobo Arbenz, lead coup plotter Castillo Armas assumed power. Author and university professor, J. Patrice McSherry, alleges that with Armas at the head of government, "the United States began to militarize Guatemala almost immediately, financing and reorganizing the police and military."[22]
Guatemalan specialist Susanne Jonas has alleged that U.S. Special Forces set up a secret military training base in 1962, and that the program became massive after Julio César Méndez Montenegro signed a pact with the army in July 1966. Accordingly, "although it was categorically denied by official U.S. sources, the presence of U.S. Green Berets (estimates ranged from several hundred to 1,000) was documented by careful observers and even acknowledged by a high Guatemalan police official[who?]." Jonas claims that the ratio of military advisers to local military officials in Guatemala was the highest of any Latin American country in the late 1960s and 70s, and moreover that "there is substantial evidence of the direct role of U.S. military advisers in the formation of death squads: U.S. Embassy personnel were allegedly involved in writing an August 1966 memorandum outlining the creation of paramilitary groups, and the U.S. military attaché during this period publicly claimed credit for instigating their formation as part of "counterterror" operations."[23]
McSherry alleges that after a successful (U.S. backed) coup against president Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes in 1963, U.S. advisors began to work with Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio to defeat the guerrillas, borrowing “extensively from current counterinsurgency strategies and technology being employed in Vietnam.” Between the years of 1966–68 alone some 8,000 peasants were murdered by the U.S. trained forces of Colonel Arana Osorio.[24] Sociologist Jeffrey M. Paige alleges that Arana Osorio "earned the nickname "The Butcher of Zacapa" for killing 15,000 peasants to eliminate 300 suspected rebels."[25]
Human Rights Watch in 1984 criticized U.S. President Ronald Reagan for his December 1982 visit to Ríos Montt in Honduras, where Reagan dismissed reports of human rights abuses by prominent human rights organizations while insisting that Ríos Montt was receiving a "bum rap". The organization reported that soon after the Reagan administration announced that it was dropping a five-year prohibition on arms sales and moreover had "approved a sale of $6.36 million worth of military spare parts."[26] Human Rights Watch described the degree of U.S. responsibility thus:
In light of its long record of apologies for the government of Guatemala, and its failure to repudiate publicly those apologies even at a moment of disenchantment, we believe that the Reagan Administration shares in the responsibility for the gross abuses of human rights practiced by the government of Guatemala.[27]
On a trip to Guatemala in 1999 after the publication of the Truth Commission report, U.S. President Bill Clinton declared that "It is important that I state clearly that support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong," and further apologized for "support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report".[28]
Political scientist Michael Radu, in an editorial on the website of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes that before 1977 the US only provided a very small amount of military aid. Between 1962, when the Marxist insurgency began, and 1977, the country received $2 million per year, or about $30 million in military aid. After 1977 military aid was stopped and Guatemala was even denied the right to buy parts for American military equipment previously provided or sold. When Romeo Lucas García and Efraín Ríos Montt broke the communist insurgency's back and killed the largest number of people during the Civil War they did so without US military aid. The CIA was no doubt aware of the human rights violations but since aid was nonexistent the US had no leverage within the Guatemalan military.[29]
An Intelligence Oversight Board report from 1996 writes that military aid was stopped during the Carter administration but later resumed under the Reagan Administration. "After a civilian government under President Cerezo was elected in 1985, overt non-lethal US military aid to Guatemala resumed. In December 1990, however, largely as a result of the killing of US citizen Michael DeVine by members of the Guatemalan army, the Bush administration suspended almost all overt military aid." "The funds the CIA provided to the Guatemalan liaison services were vital to the D-2 and Archivos." The CIA "continued this aid after the termination of overt military assistance in 1990." "Overall CIA funding levels to the Guatemalan services dropped consistently from about $3.5 million in FY 1989 to about 1 million in 1995." The report writes that "the CIA's liaison relationship with the Guatemalan services also benefited US interests by enlisting the assistance of Guatemala's primary intelligence and security service – the army's directorate of intelligence (D-2) – in areas such as reversing the 'auto-coup" of 1993'" "In the face of strong protests by Guatemalan citizens and the international community (including the United States) and – most importantly – in the face of the Guatemalan army's refusal to support him, President Serrano's Fujimori-style 'auto-coup' failed."[9]