Guatemalan Civil War
|Guatemalan Civil War|
|Part of the Central American crisis|
Ixil people carrying their loved ones' remains after an exhumation in the Ixil Triangle in February 2012.
URNG (from 1982)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Ricardo Rosales||Álvaro Arzú|
|Casualties and losses|
|between 140,000–200,000 dead and missing (estimated) |
The Guatemalan Civil War ran from 1960 to 1996. It was fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups supported chiefly by ethnic Mayan indigenous people and Ladino peasants, who together make up the rural poor. The government forces of Guatemala have been condemned for committing genocide against the Mayan population of Guatemala during the civil war and for widespread human rights violations against civilians.
Democratic elections during the Guatemalan Revolution in 1944 and 1951 had brought popular leftist governments to power, but a United States backed coup d'état in 1954 installed the military regime of Carlos Castillo Armas, who was followed by a series of conservative military dictators. In 1970, the Institutional Democratic Party (PID) gained prominence with the election of Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio and would dominate Guatemalan politics until March 23, 1982 when General Efraín Ríos Montt, together with a group of junior army officers, seized power in a military coup. In the 1970s continuing social discontent gave rise to an insurgency among the large populations of indigenous people and peasants, who traditionally bore the brunt of unequal land tenure. During the 1980s, the Guatemalan military assumed almost absolute government power for five years; it had successfully infiltrated and eliminated enemies in every socio-political institution of the nation, including the political, social, and intellectual classes. In the final stage of the civil war, the military developed a parallel, semi-visible, low profile but high-effect, control of Guatemala's national life.
As well as fighting between government forces and rebel groups, the conflict included, much more significantly, a large-scale, coordinated campaign of one-sided violence by the Guatemalan state against the civilian population from the mid-1960s onward. Victim of government repression included indigenous activists, suspected government opponents, returning refugees, critical academics and students, left-leaning politicians, trade unionists, religious workers, journalists, and street children. The Guatemalan state is accredited with being the first in Latin America to engage in widespread use of forced disappearances against its opposition - a tactic used previously by Nazi Germany - with the number of disappeared estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000 from 1966 until the end of the war. In total, it is estimated that 200,000 civilians were killed or "disappeared" during the conflict, most at the hands of the military, police and intelligence services.
In 2009, Guatemalan courts sentenced Felipe Cusanero as the first person convicted of the crime of ordering forced disappearances. This was followed by the 2013 trial of former president Efraín Ríos Montt genocide for the killing and disappearances of more than 1,400 indigenous Ixil Mayans during his 1982-83 rule; the accusations from genocide derived from the "Memoria del Silencio" report - written by the UN-appointed Commission for Historical Clarification- which considered that genocide could have occurred in Quiché between 1981 and 1983, although it did not take into consideration potential economic interests in the Ixcán region - situated in Franja Transversal del Norte- given the oil fields that were discovered in that area in 1975. The first former head of state to be tried for genocide by his own country's judicial system, Montt was found guilty the day following the conclusion of his trial and was sentenced to 80 years in prison; a few days later, however, the sentence was reversed and the trial was scheduled to start again because of alleged judicial anomalies. Finally, the trial began again on 23 July 2015.
- 1 Background
- 2 Initial phase of the civil war: 1960s and early 1970s
- 3 Mass movement for social reforms: 1974–1976
- 4 Franja Transversal del Norte
- 5 Transition between Laugerud and Lucas Garcia regimes
- 6 Lucas Garcia presidency
- 7 1982 coup d'état and Ríos Montt regime
- 8 Mejia Victores regime and democratic transition: 1983–1986
- 9 Democratic era
- 10 Analysis
- 11 Foreign involvement
- 12 See also
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
After the 1871 revolution, the liberal government of Justo Rufino Barrios escalated coffee production in Guatemala, which required vast land extensions and a lot of workers; to find the people need for the work, Barrios established a Settler Rule Book, which forced then native population to practically work for free for the landowners -liberal criollos- and later German settlers. Barrios also confiscated the common native land, which had been protected during the Spanish Colony and during the conservative government of Rafael Carrera, and distributed to his liberal friends, who became important landowners.
In the 1890s, the United States began to implement the Monroe Doctrine, pushing out European colonial powers and establishing U.S. hegemony over resources and labor in Latin American nations. The dictators that ruled Guatemala during the late 19th and early 20th century were generally very accommodating to U.S. business and political interests; thus, unlike other Latin American nations such as Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba the U.S. did not have to use overt military force to maintain dominance in Guatemala. The Guatemalan military/police worked closely with the U.S. military and State Department to secure U.S. interests. The Guatemalan government exempted several U.S. corporations from paying taxes, especially the United Fruit Company, privatized and sold off publicly owned utilities, and gave away huge swaths of public land.
In 1920, prince Wilhelm of Sweden visited Guatemala and described Guatemalan society and Estrada Cabrera government in his book Between two continents, notes from a journey in Central America, 1920. The prince explained the dynamics of the Guatemalan society at the time pointing out that even though it called itself a "Republic", Guatemala had three sharply defined classes:
- Criollos: a minority conformed originally by ancient families descendants of the Spaniards that conquered Central America and that by 1920 conformed both political parties in the country. By 1920, they were mixed to a large extended with foreigners and the great majority had Indian blood in their veins. They led the country both politically and intellectually partly because their education, although poor for European standards of the time, was enormously superior to the rest of the people of the country, partly because only criollos were allowed in the main political parties and also because their families controlled and for the most part owner the cultivated parts of the country.
- Ladinos: middle class. Formed of people born of the cross between natives, blacks and criollos. The held almost no political power in 1920 and made the bulk of artisans, storekeepers, tradesmen and minor officials. In the eastern part of the country the were found agricultural laborers.
- Indians: the majority conformed by a mass of natives. Slow of wit, uneducated and disinclined to all forms of change, they had furnished excellent soldiers for the Army and often raised, as soldiers, to positions of considerable trust given their disinclination for independent political activity and their inherent respect for government and officialdom. They made the main element in the working agricultural population. There were three categories within them:
- "Mozos colonos": settled on the plantations. Were given a small piece of land to cultivate on their own account, in return for work in the plantations so many months of the year.
- "Mozos jornaleros": day-laborers who were contracted to work for certain periods of time. They were paid a daily wage.
- In theory, each "mozo" was free to dispose of his labor as he or she pleased, but they were bound to the property by economical ties. The could not leave until they had paid off their debt to the owner, and they were victim of those owners, who encouraged the "mozos" to get into debt beyond their power to free themselves by granting credit or lending cash. If the mozos ran away, the owner could have them pursued and imprisoned by the authorities, with all the cost incurred in the process charged to the ever increasing debt of the mozo. If one of them refused to work, he or she was put in prison on the spot.
- Finally, the wages were extremely low. The work was done by contract, but since every "mozo" starts with a large debt, the usual advance on engagement, they become servants to the owner.
- 4. Independent tillers: living in the most remote provinces, survived by growing crops of maize, wheat or beans, sufficient to meet their own needs and leave a small margin for disposal in the market places of the towns and often carried their goods on their back for up to twenty five miles a day.
Jorge Ubico regime
In 1931, the dictator General Jorge Ubico came to power, backed by the United States, and initiated one of the most brutally repressive military in Central American history. Just as Estrada Cabrera had done during his government, Ubico created a widespread network of spies and informants and had large numbers of political opponents tortured and put to death. A wealthy aristocrat (with an estimated income of $215,000 per year in 1930s dollars) and a staunch anti-communist, he consistently sided with the United Fruit Company, Guatemalan landowners and urban elites in disputes with peasants. After the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, the peasant system established by Barrios in 1875 to jumpstart coffee production in the country was not good enough anymore, and Ubico was forced to implement a system of debt slavery and forced labor to make sure that there was enough labor available for the coffee plantations and that the UFCO workers were readily available. Allegedly, he passed laws allowing landowners to execute workers as a "disciplinary" measure. He also openly identified as a fascist; he admired Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler, saying at one point: "I am like Hitler. I execute first and ask questions later." Ubico was disdainful of the indigenous population, calling them "animal-like", and stated that to become "civilized" they needed mandatory military training, comparing it to "domesticating donkeys". He gave away hundreds of thousands of hectares to the United Fruit Company (UFCO), exempted them from taxes in Tiquisate, and allowed the U.S. military to establish bases in Guatemala. Ubico considered himself to be "another Napoleon". He dressed ostentatiously and surrounded himself with statues and paintings of the emperor, regularly commenting on the similarities between their appearances. He militarized numerous political and social institutions—including the post office, schools, and symphony orchestras—and placed military officers in charge of many government posts. He frequently travelled around the country performing "inspections" in dress uniform, followed by a military escort, a mobile radio station, an official biographer, and cabinet members.
On the other hand, Ubico was an efficient administrator:
- His new decrees, although unfair to the majority of the indigenous population, proved good for the Guatemalan economy during the Great Depression era, as they increased coffee production across the country.
- He cut the bureuocrats salaries by almost half, forcing inflation to recede.
- One of his last administrative decision was to pay the English Debt, which he inherited and was originally generated when president José María Reyna Barrios tried to promote his interoceanic railway in 1897 thru a major Centralamerican Fair, which failed miserably when the railway was not finished on time: at that time, the Panama Canal had not been built yet, and the interoceanic railways would have been a major investor attraction for Guatemala. Since the fair failed, the Guatemalan government was left with a large debt with the British bankers and the new president, Manuel Estrada Cabrera feared that those bankers would use the British Navy to invade Guatemala to force it to pay the debt.
- Kept the peace and order in Guatemala City, by effectively fighting its crime.
After 14 years, Ubico's repressive policies and arrogant demeanor finally led to pacific disobedience by urban middle-class intellectuals, professionals, and junior army officers in 1944. On 1 July 1944 Ubico resigned from office amidst a general strike and nationwide protests. Initially, he had planned to hand over power to the former director of police, General Roderico Anzueto, whom he felt he could control. But his advisors noted that Anzueto's pro-Nazi sympathies had made him very unpopular, and that he would not be able to control the military. So Ubico instead chose to select a triumvirate of Major General Bueneventura Piñeda, Major General Eduardo Villagrán Ariza, and General Federico Ponce Vaides. The three generals promised to convene the national assembly to hold an election for a provisional president, but when the congress met on 3 July, soldiers held everyone at gunpoint and forced them to vote for General Ponce rather than the popular civilian candidate, Dr. Ramón Calderón. Ponce, who had previously retired from military service due to alcoholism, took orders from Ubico and kept many of the officials who had worked in the Ubico administration. The repressive policies of the Ubico administration were continued.
Opposition groups began organizing again, this time joined by many prominent political and military leaders, who deemed the Ponce regime unconstitutional. Among the military officers in the opposition were Jacobo Árbenz and Major Francisco Javier Arana. Ubico had fired Árbenz from his teaching post at the Escuela Politécnica, and since then Árbenz had been living in El Salvador, organizing a band of revolutionary exiles. On 19 October 1944 a small group of soldiers and students led by Árbenz and Arana attacked the National Palace in what later became known as the "October Revolution". Ponce was defeated and driven into exile; and Árbenz, Arana, and a lawyer name Jorge Toriello established a junta. They declared that democratic elections would be held before the end of the year.
The winner of the 1944 elections was a teaching major named Juan José Arévalo, PhD, who had earn a scholarship in Argentina during the government of general Lázaro Chacón due to his superb professor skills. Arévalo remained in South America during a few years, working as a University professor in several countries. Back in Guatemala during the early years of the Jorge Ubico regime, his colleagues asked him to present a project to the president to create the Faculty of Humanism at the National University, to which Ubico was strongly opposed. Realizing the dictatorial nature of Ubico, Arévalo left Guatemala and went back to Argentina. He went back to Guatemala after the 1944 Revolution and ran under a coalition of leftist parties known as the Partido Acción Revolucionaria ("Revolutionary Action Party", PAR), and won 85 percent of the vote in elections that are widely considered to have been fair and open. Arévalo implemented social reforms, including minimum wage laws, increased educational funding, near-universal suffrage (excluding illiterate women), and labor reforms. But many of these changes only benefited the upper-middle classes and did little for the peasant agricultural laborers who made up the majority of the population. Although his reforms were relatively moderate, he was widely disliked by the United States government, the Catholic Church, large landowners, employers such as the United Fruit Company, and Guatemalan military officers, who viewed his government as inefficient, corrupt, and heavily influenced by Communists. At least 25 coup attempts took place during his presidency, mostly led by wealthy liberal military officers.
In 1944, the "October Revolutionaries" took control of the government. They instituted liberal economic reform, benefiting and politically strengthening the civil and labor rights of the urban working class and the peasants. Elsewhere, a group of leftist students, professionals, and liberal-democratic government coalitions developed, led by Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. Decree 900, passed in 1952, ordered the redistribution of fallow land on large estates, threatening the interests of the landowning elite and, mainly, the United Fruit Company.
Given the strong ties of the UFCO with high Eisenhower administration officers -such as brothers John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles who were Secretary of State and CIA director, respectively who were in the company Board-, the U.S. government ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to launch Operation PBFORTUNE (1952–54) and halt Guatemala's "communist revolt", as perceived by the corporate fruit company United Fruit and the U.S. State Department. The CIA chose right-wing Guatemalan Army Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas to lead an "insurrection" in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état. Upon deposing the Árbenz Guzmán government, Castillo Armas began to dissolve a decade of social and economic reform and legislative progress, and banned labor unions and left-wing political parties, a disfranchisement of left-wing Guatemalans. He also returned all the confiscated land to the United Fruit and the elite landlords.
A series of military coups d’état followed, featuring fraudulent elections in which only military personnel were the winner candidates. Aggravating the general poverty and political repression motivating the civil war was the widespread socio-economic discrimination and racism practiced against the Guatemala's indigenous peoples, such as the Maya; many later fought in the civil war. Although the indigenous Guatemalans constitute more than half of the national populace, they were landless, having been dispossessed of their lands since the Justo Rufino Barrios times. The landlord upper classes of the oligarchy, generally descendants of Spanish and other European immigrants to Guatemala, although often with some mestizo ancestry as well, controlled most of the land after the Liberal Reform of 1871.
Initial phase of the civil war: 1960s and early 1970s
On 13 November 1960, a group of left-wing junior military officers of the Escuela Politécnica national military academy, led a failed revolt against the autocratic government (1958–63) of General Ydigoras Fuentes, who had usurped power in 1958, after the assassination of the incumbent Colonel Castillo Armas. The surviving officers fled into the hills of eastern Guatemala, and later established communication with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. By 1962, those surviving officers had established an insurgent movement known as the MR-13 (Movimiento Revolucionario 13 Noviembre), named after the date of the officers’ revolt. Through the early phase of the conflict, the MR-13 was a principal component of the insurgent movement in Guatemala.
The MR-13 later initiated contact with the outlawed PGT (Guatemalan Labour Party; composed and led by middle-class intellectuals and students) and a student organization called the Movimiento 12 de Abril (April 12 Movement) and together with these groups merged into an coalition guerilla organization called the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR) in December 1962. Also affiliated with the FAR was the FGEI (Edgar Ibarra Guerrilla Front). The MR-13, PGT and the FGEI each operated in different parts of the country as three separate "frentes" (fronts); the MR-13 established itself in the mostly ladino departments of Izabal and Zacapa, the FGEI established itself in Sierra de las Minas and the PGT operated as an urban guerrilla front. Each of these three "frentes" (comprising no more than 500 combatants) were led by former members of the 1960 army revolt, who had previously been trained in counterinsurgency warfare by the United States.
US intelligence and counterinsurgency assistance to government
In 1964 and 1965, the Guatemalan Armed Forces began engaging in counterinsurgency actions against the MR-13 in eastern Guatemala. In February and March 1964, the Guatemalan Air Force began a selective bombing campaign against MR-13 bases in Izabal, which was followed by counterinsurgency sweeps in the neighboring province of Zacapa under the code-name "Operation Falcon" in September and October 1965. These operations were supplemented by increased U.S. military assistance. Beginning in 1965, the U.S. government sent Green Berets and CIA advisers to instruct the Guatemalan military in counterinsurgency (anti-guerrilla warfare).
In addition, U.S. police and "Public Safety" advisers were dispatched to reorganize the urban security structures. In response to increased insurgent activity in the capital, a specialty squad of the National Police was organized in June 1965 called Comando Seis ('Commando Six') to deal with urban guerilla assaults. 'Commando Six' received special training from the US Public Safety Program and money and weapons from US Public Safety Advisors. In November 1965, US Public Safety Advisor John Longan arrived in Guatemala on temporary loan from his post in Venezuela to assist senior military and police officials in establishing an urban counterinsurgency program. With the assistance of Longan, the Guatemalan Military launched "Operation Limpieza" -Operation Cleanup-, an urban counterinsurgency program under the command of Colonel Rafael Arriaga Bosque. This program coordinated the activities of all of the country's main security agencies (including the Army, the Judicial Police and the National Police) in both covert and overt anti-guerrilla operations. Under Arriaga's direction, the security forces began to abduct, torture and kill the PGT's key constituents.
With money and support from US advisors, President Enrique Peralta Azurdia established a Presidential Intelligence Agency in the National Palace, under which a telecommunications database known as the Regional Telecommunications Center or La Regional existed, linking the National Police, the Treasury Guard, the Judicial Police, the Presidential House and the Military Communications Center via a VHF-FM intracity frequency. La Regional also served as a depository for the names of suspected "subversives" and had its own intelligence and operational unit attached to it known as the Policía Regional. This network was built on the 'Committees against Communism' created by the Central Intelligence Agency after the coup in 1954.
"White Terror" and paramilitarism
In a clandestine operation in March 1966, a total of thirty PGT associates were seized, detained, tortured, and executed by the security forces. When law students at the University of San Carlos used legal measures (such as habeas corpus petitions) to require the government to present the detainees at court, some of the students were "disappeared" in turn. These "disappearances" became notorious as one of the first major instances of mass forced disappearance in Latin American history.
The use of such tactics to combat the insurgency increased dramatically after the inauguration of President Julio César Méndez Montenegro, who - in a bid to placate and secure the support of the military establishment - gave it carte blanche to engage in "any means necessary" to pacify the country. The military subsequently ran the counterinsurgency program autonomously from the Presidential House and appointed Vice-Defense Minister, Col. Manuel Francisco Sosa Avila as the main coordinator for the program. In addition, the Army General Staff and the Ministry of Defense took control of the Presidential Intelligence Agency - which controlled the La Regional annex - and renamed it the Guatemalan National Security Service (Servicio de Seguridad Nacional de Guatemala - SSNG). The Policía Regional was subsequently placed under the command of Major Rolando Archila Marroquin.
With increased military aid from the United States, the 5,000-man Guatemalan Army mounted a large pacification effort in the departments of Zacapa and Izabal in October 1966 dubbed "Operation Guatemala". Col. Carlos Arana Osorio was appointed commander of the "Zacapa-Izabal Military Zone" and subsequently took charge of the campaign, with guidance and training from 1,000 US Green Berets. Under Colonel Arana's jurisdiction, military strategists armed and fielded various paramilitary death squads to supplement regular army and police units in clandestine terror operations against the FAR's civilian support base. Personnel, weapons, funds and operational instructions were supplied to these organizations by the armed forces. The death squads operated with impunity - permitted by the government to kill any civilians deemed to be either insurgents or insurgent collaborators. The civilian membership of the army's paramilitary units consisted largely of right-wing fanatics with ties to the MLN, founded and led by Mario Sandoval Alarcón, a former participant in the 1954 coup. By 1967, the Guatemalan army claimed to have 1,800 civilian paramilitaries under its direct control. 
In a 1976 report, Amnesty International cited estimates that 3,000 to 8,000 peasants were killed by the army and paramilitary organizations in Zacapa and Izabal between October 1966 and March 1968.  Other estimates put the death toll at 15,000 in Zacapa alone during the Mendez period. As a result, Colonel Arana Osorio subsequently earned the nickname "The Butcher of Zacapa" for his brutality.
One of the most notorious death squads operating during this period was the MANO, also known as the Mano Blanca ("White Hand"); initially formed by the MLN as a paramilitary front in 1966 to prevent President Méndez Montenegro from taking office, the MANO was quickly taken over by the military and incorporated into the state's counter-terror apparatus. The MANO - while being the only death squad formed autonomously from the government - had a largely military membership, and received substantial funding from wealthy landowners. The MANO also received information from military intelligence through La Regional, with which it was linked to the Army General Staff and all of the main security forces.
In January 1967, the Guatemalan Army formed the 'Special Commando Unit of the Guatemalan Army' - SCUGA - which was placed under the command of Colonel Máximo Zepeda. The SCUGA - which the CIA referred to as a "government-sponsored terrorist organization...used primarily for assassinations and political abductions" - carried out abductions, bombings, street assassinations, torture, "disappearances" and summary executions of both real and suspected communists. The SCUGA also worked with the Mano Blanca for a period before inter-agency rivalry took over.
During this period, the National Police became increasingly militarized, eventually functioning as an adjunct of the Guatemalan Army. In March 1967, Vice-Defense Minister and counterinsurgency coordinator, Col. Francisco Sosa Avila was named director-general of the National Police. As director-general, Col. Sosa activated a special militarized unit of the National Police known as the Fourth Corps to carry out extralegal operations. The Fourth Corps began working closely with the SCUGA, carrying out death squad activities under the guise of various fictitious anti-communist front organizations. These shadow organizations went by numerous acronyms such as RAYO, NOA, CADEG and others.
Victims of government repression in the capital included guerrilla sympathizers, labor union leaders, intellectuals, students, and other vaguely defined "enemies of the government." Some observers referred to the policy of the Guatemalan government as "White Terror" -a term previously used to describe similar periods of anti-communist mass killing in countries such as Taiwan and Spain.
The growth of government-sponsored paramilitarism and the government's use of "any means necessary" resulted in the opposition increasing its level of resistance to ensure its survival. The "White Terror" (which led to the destruction of the FAR's ladino peasant base in the eastern provinces) caused the MR-13 to retreat to Guatemala City. There, the MR-13 began to engage in selective killings of members of the security forces as well as U.S. military advisors. The insurgents assassinated the American ambassador to Guatemala, John Gordon Mein, in 1968, and the German ambassador to Guatemala, Karl Von Spreti, in 1970.
Domination by military rulers
In July 1970, Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio assumed the presidency. Arana, backed by the army, represented an alliance of the MLN - the originators of the MANO death squad - and the Institutional Democratic Party (MLN-PID). Arana was the first of a string of military rulers allied with the Institutional Democratic Party who dominated Guatemalan politics in the 1970s and 1980s (his predecessor, Julio César Méndez, while dominated by the army, was a civilian). Colonel Arana, who had been in charge of the terror campaign in Zacapa, was an anti-communist hardliner who once stated, "If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so."
Despite minimal armed insurgent activity at the time, Arana announced a "State of Siege" on November 13, 1970 and imposed a curfew from 9:00PM to 5:00AM, during which time all vehicle and pedestrian traffic—including ambulances, fire engines, nurses, and physicians—were forbidden throughout the national territory. Arana also imposed dress codes, banning miniskirts for women and long hair for men.
During the "State of Siege" the Arana regime began a massive program of selective terror, using the telecommunications annex of National Palace - La Regional - as a command center for murder operations. High government sources were cited at the time by foreign journalists as acknowledging 700 executions by security forces or paramilitary death squads in the first two months of the "State of Siege". This is corroborated by a January 1971 secret bulletin of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency detailing the elimination of hundreds of suspected "terrorists and bandits" in the Guatemalan countryside by the security forces.
While government repression continued in the countryside, the majority of victims of government repression under Arana were residents of the capital. "Special commandos" of the military and the Fourth Corps of the National Police acting "under government control but outside the judicial processes", abducted, tortured and killed thousands of leftists, students, labor union leaders and common criminals in Guatemala City. In November 1970, the 'Judicial Police' were formally disbanded and a new semi-autonomous intelligence agency of the National Police was activated known as the 'Detectives Corps' - with members operating in plainclothes - which eventually became notorious for repression. One method of torture commonly used by the National Police at the time consisted of placing a rubber "hood" filled with insecticide over the victim's head to the point of suffocation.
A number of death squads - run by the police and intelligence services - emerged in the capital during this period. In one incident on 13 October 1972, ten people were knifed to death in the name of a death squad known as the "Avenging Vulture." Guatemalan government sources confirmed to the U.S. Department of State that the "Avenging Vulture" and other similar death squads operating during the time period were a "smoke screen" for extralegal tactics being employed by the National Police against non-political delinquents. Another infamous death squad active during this time was the 'Ojo por Ojo' (Eye for an Eye), described in a US State Department intelligence cable as "a largely military membership with some civilian cooperation". The 'Ojo por Ojo' tortured, killed and mutilated scores of civilians linked to the PGT or suspected of collaborating with the FAR in the first half of the 1970s.
According to Amnesty International and domestic human rights organizations such as 'Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Persons', over 7,000 civilian opponents of the security forces were 'disappeared' or found dead in 1970 and 1971, followed by an additional 8,000 in 1972 and 1973. In the period between January and September 1973, the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission documented the deaths and forced disappearances of 1,314 individuals by death squads. The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission estimated 20,000 people killed or "disappeared" between 1970 and 1974.
The Arana administration also violated the autonomy of Guatemala's educational institutions. In October 1971, over 12,000 students at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala went on a general strike to protest the killing of students by the security forces; they called for an end to the "state of siege." On 27 November 1971, the Guatemalan military responded with an extensive raid on the main campus of the university, seeking cached weapons. It mobilized 800 army personnel, as well as tanks, helicopters and armored cars, for the raid. They conducted a room-to-room search of the entire campus but found no evidence or supplies.
Amnesty International mentioned Guatemala as one of several countries under a human rights state of emergency, while citing "the high incidence of disappearances of Guatemalan citizens" as a major and continuing problem in its 1972–1973 annual report. Overall, as many as 42,000 Guatemalan civilians were killed or "disappeared" between 1966 and 1973.
For several years after the "state of siege," the insurgency was largely inactive, having been defeated and demoralized on all fronts. Massive economic inequality persisted, compounded by external factors such the 1973 oil crisis, which led to rising food prices, fuel shortages, and decreased agricultural output due to the lack imported goods and petrol-based fertilizers. Additionally, a blatant electoral fraud during the 1974 presidential elections favored the government's preferred candidate, General Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García, representing the right-wing alliance between the MLN and the Institutional Democratic Party (MLN-PID), against a center-left alliance promoting the ticket of Christian Democrat General José Efraín Ríos Montt (later president from 1982–83) and leftist economist Alberto Fuentes Mohr. Inflation, imbalance, public outrage at the electoral fraud, and discontent with human rights violations generated widespread protest and civil disobedience. A mass movement emerged that persisted throughout much of the decade.
The political pressures and tensions created by the mass movement prompted the government to try to co-opt some economic reforms. Unlike previous presidents, General Laugerud did not begin his term with the use of military repression to consolidate power. In the late 1970s, the administration began to negotiate solutions to labor disputes between unions and industries rather than silencing the workers through violence, which had been characteristic of the previous two presidencies. This period marked a political opening for the opposition and allowed for greater political freedoms.
Coinciding with the election of Kjell Laugerud was the rise to prominence of labor organizations in rural Guatemala, such as the CUC. When the CUC (Committee for Peasant Unity) first began organizing in the countryside in the early 1970s more than 300,000 rural peasants left the Guatemalan altiplano every year to work on plantations on the Pacific coast to supplement their minuscule earnings. The CUC was the first Indian-led national labor organization and the first to unite ladino workers and Indian farmers in a struggle for better working conditions.
On 4 February 1976, a devastating 7.5 Mw earthquake shook Guatemala. Over 23,000 Guatemalans perished in the disaster and close to a million were left without adequate housing. The earthquake had a political effect as well: the visible incapacity and corruption of the government to deal with the effects of the catastrophe led to a rise in independent organizing and left many survivors deeply critical of the government. The political system was ineffective to ensure the welfare of the populace. In the aftermath of the earthquake, more citizens wanted infrastructural reforms, and many saw it as the government's responsibility to invest in these improvements. In the poor barrios disproportionately affected by the quake, due to poor infrastructure, neighborhood groups helped to rescue victims or dig out the dead, distribute water, food and reconstruction materials, and prevent looting by criminals. The political pressures generated in the aftermath of the earthquake put greater pressure on the military government of Guatemala to induce reforms.
Despite the political opening under the Laugerud regime, the wealthy land elites, the business community, and elements of the military and security forces began to oppose the mass movement for social reforms. They felt increasingly threatened by the mass movement and the government's decision to work with it. Additionally, a new insurgency started to develop in Guatemala, known as the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP). Unlike the predominantly Ladino insurgency active in the 1960s and the earlier part of the decade, the EGP had its base in the predominantly Mayan northern regions of the country and was composed mostly of indigenous people.
At the same time, the Guatemalan government was becoming increasing isolated internationally. In 1977, the administration of US-president Jimmy Carter targeted Guatemala and several other Latin American regimes for a reduction in military assistance in pursuance with Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act, which stated that no assistance will be provided to a government "engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."
Franja Transversal del Norte
The first settler project in the FTN was in Sebol-Chinajá in Alta Verapaz. Sebol, then regarded as a strategic point and route through Cancuén river, which communicated with Petén through the Usumacinta River on the border with Mexico and the only road that existed was a dirt one built by President Lázaro Chacón in 1928. In 1958, during the government of General Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) financed infrastructure projects in Sebol.[b] In 1960, then Army captain Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia inherited Saquixquib and Punta de Boloncó farms in northeastern Sebol. In 1963 he bought the farm "San Fernando" El Palmar de Sejux and finally bought the "Sepur" farm near San Fernando. During those years, Lucas was in the Guatemalan legislature and lobbied in Congress to boost investment in that area of the country.
In those years, the importance of the region was in livestock, exploitation of precious export wood and archaeological wealth. Timber contracts we granted to multinational companies such as Murphy Pacific Corporation from California, which invested US$30 million for the colonization of southern Petén and Alta Verapaz, and formed the North Impulsadora Company. Colonization of the area was made through a process by which inhospitable areas of the FTN were granted to native peasants.
In 1962, the DGAA became the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INTA), by Decree 1551 which created the law of Agrarian Transformation. In 1964, INTA defined the geography of the FTN as the northern part of the departments of Huehuetenango, Quiché , Alta Verapaz and Izabal and that same year priests of the Maryknoll order and the Order of the Sacred Heart began the first process of colonization, along with INTA, carrying settlers from Huehuetenango to the Ixcán sector in Quiché.
The Northern Transversal Strip was officially created during the government of General Carlos Arana Osorio in 1970, by Legislative Decree 60-70, for agricultural development.
Guerrilla Army of the Poor
On January 19, 1972 members of a new Guatemalan guerrilla movement entered Ixcán, from Mexico, and were accepted by many farmers; in 1973, after an exploratory foray into the municipal seat of Cotzal, the insurgent group decided to set up camp underground in the mountains of Xolchiché, municipality of Chajul.
In 1974 the insurgent guerrilla group held its first conference, where it defined its strategy of action for the coming months and called itself Guerrilla Army of the Poor (-Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres -EGP-). In 1975 the organization had spread around the area of the mountains of northern municipalities of Nebaj and Chajul. As part of its strategy EGP decided to perpetrate notorious acts which also symbolized the establishment of a "social justice" against the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the judicial and administrative State institutions. They also wanted that with these actions the indigenous rural population of the region identified with the insurgency, thus motivating them to join their ranks. As part of this plan it was agreed to do the so-called "executions"; in order to determine who would be subject to "execution", the EGP gathered complaints received from local communities. For example, they selected two victims: Guillermo Monzón, who was a military Commissioner in Ixcán and José Luis Arenas, the largest landowner in the area, and who had been reported to the EGP for allegedly having land conflicts with neighboring settlements and abusing their workers.[c]
On Saturday, 7 June 1975, José Luis Arenas was murdered when he was in the premises of his farm "La Perla" to pay his workers. In front of his office there were approximately two to three hundred people to receive their payment and four EGP members hidden among the farmers. After the business at hand was over, guerrilla members destroyed the communication radio of the farm and executed Arenas. Following Arenas murder, the guerrilla members spoke in Ixil language to the farmers, informing them that they were members of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor and had killed the "Ixcán Tiger" due to his alleged multiple crimes against community members. Then the attackers fled towards Chajul.
José Luis Arenas' son, who was in San Luis Ixcán at the time, took refuge in a nearby mountain, waiting for a plane to arrive to take him to Guatemala City, in order to immediately report the matter to Minister of Defense, general Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia (who later was president from 1978 to 1982). General Romeo Lucas replied, "You are mistaken, there are no guerrillas in the area".
Selective terror in El Quiche
The "execution" of La Perla owner José Luis Arenas in 1975 was seen as an act of "social justice" by many peasants of Chajul and support for the insurgency increased among the populations of Hom, Ixtupil, Sajsivan and Sotzil villages, mainly due to the land dispute between the peasants and the owners of the farm which had been going on for several years. The population was polarized between part of the population which moved closer to the guerrillas and another part of the population of Hom which kept out of the insurgency. The Laugerud Garcia regime moved to deracinate the insurgency through a program of selective assassination in El Quiché against peasant and cooperative leaders. The killings and disappearances began in Ixcan Grande with the kidnapping and "disappearance" of 30 peasant cooperativists by uniformed paratroopers of the Guatemalan Army in July 1975; a total of 60 cooperative leaders were murdered or "disappeared" in Ixcan between June and December 1975. An additional 163 cooperative and village leaders were assassinated by death squads between 1976 and 1978. Believing that the Catholic Church constituted a major part of the social base of the EGP, the regime also began singling out targets among the catechists. Between November 1976 and December 1977, death squads murdered 143 Catholic Action catechists of the 'Diocese of El Quiche.'  On January 14, 1977 in the village of Xoncá in Nebaj, El Quiche, three hooded men in 'Treasury Guard' uniforms abducted Rafael Bernal Chel and two other men both named Domingo. One week later their bodies were found showing signs of torture.
Also located in the Northern Transversal Strip, the valley of the Polochic River was inhabited since ancient times by k'ekchí and P'okomchi people. In the second half of the nineteenth century, President Justo Rufino Barrios (1835-1885) began the allocation of land in the area to German farmers. Decree 170 (or decree of Census Redemption Decree) facilitated the expropriation of Indian land in favor of the Germans, because it promoted the auction of communal lands. Since that time, the main economic activity was export-oriented, especially coffee, bananas and cardamom. The communal property, dedicated to subsistence farming, became private property led to the cultivation and mass marketing of agricultural products. Therefore, the fundamental characteristic of the Guatemalan production system has since that time been the accumulation of property in few hands, and a sort of "farm servitude" based on the exploitation of "farmer settlers".[d]
In 1951, the agrarian reform law that expropriated idle land from private hands was enacted, but in 1954, with the National Liberation Movement coup supported by the United States, most of the land that had been expropriated, was awarded back to its former landowners. Flavio Monzón was appointed mayor and in the next twenty years he became one of the largest landowners in the area. In 1964, several communities settled for decades on the shore of Polochic River claimed property titles to INTA which was created in October 1962, but the land was awarded to Flavio Monzón. A Mayan peasant from Panzós later said that Flavio Monzón "got the signatures of the elders before he went before INTA to talk about the land. When he returned, gathered the people and said that, by an INTA mistake, the land had gone to his name." Throughout the 1970s, Panzós farmers continued to claim INTA regularization of land ownership receiving legal advice from the FASGUA (Autonomous Trade Union Federation of Guatemala), an organization that supported the peasants' demands through legal procedures. However, no peasant received a property title, ever. Some obtained promises while other had provisional property titles, and there were also some that only had received permission to plant. The peasants began to suffer evictions from their land by farmers, the military and local authorities in favor of the economic interests of Izabal Mining Operations Company (EXMIBAL) and Transmetales.[e]
In 1978 a military patrol was stationed a few kilometers from the county seat of Panzós, in a place known as "Quinich". At this time organizational capacity of peasant had increased through committees who claimed titles to their land, a phenomenon that worried the landlord sector. Some of these owners -among them Flavio Monzón- stated: "Several peasants living in the villages and settlements want to burn urban populations to gain access to private property", and requested protection from Alta Verapaz governor.[f]
On 29 May 1978, peasants from Cahaboncito, Semococh, Rubetzul, Canguachá, Sepacay villages, finca Moyagua and neighborhood La Soledad, decided to hold a public demonstration in the Plaza de Panzós to insist on the claim of land and to express their discontent caused by the arbitrary actions of the landowners and the civil and military authorities. Hundreds of men, women, indigenous children went to the square of the municipal seat of Panzós, carrying their tools, machetes and sticks. One of the people who participated in the demonstration states: "The idea was not to fight with anyone, what was required was the clarification of the status of the land. People came from various places and they had guns."
There are different versions on how the shooting began: some say it began when "Mama Maquín" -an important peasant leader- pushed a soldier who was in her way; others argue that it started because people kept pushing trying to get into the municipality, which was interpreted by the soldiers as an aggression. The mayor at the time, Walter Overdick, said that "people of the middle of the group pushed those who in front." A witness says one protester grabbed the gun from a soldier but did not use it and several people argue that a military voice yelled: One, two, three! Fire!" In fact, the lieutenant who led the troops gave orders to open fire on the crowd.
The shots that rang for about five minutes, were made by regulation firearms carried by the military as well as the three machine guns located on the banks of the square. 36 Several peasants with machetes wounded several soldiers. No soldier was wounded by gunfire. The square was covered with blood.
Transition between Laugerud and Lucas Garcia regimes
Due to his seniority in both the military and economic elites in Guatemala, as well as the fact that he spoke perfectly the q'ekchi, one of the Guatemalan indigenous languages, Lucas García the ideal official candidate for the 1978 elections; and to further enhance his image, he was paired with the leftist doctor Francisco Villagrán Kramer as running mate. Villagrán Kramer was a man of recognized democratic trajectory, having participated in the Revolution of 1944, and was linked to the interests of transnational corporations and elites, as he was one of the main advisers of agricultural, industrial and financial chambers of Guatemala. Despite the democratic facade, the electoral victory was not easy and the establishment had to impose Lucas García, causing further discredit the electoral system -which had already suffered a fraud when General Laugerud was imposed in the 1974 elections.
In 1976 student group called "FRENTE" emerged in the University of San Carlos, which completely swept all student body positions that were up for election that year. FRENTE leaders were mostly members of the Patriotic Workers' Youth, the youth wing of the Guatemalan Labor Party -Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo- (PGT), the Guatemalan communist party who had worked in the shadows since it was illegalized in 1954. Unlike other Marxist organizations in Guatemala at the time, PGT leaders trusted the mass movement to gain power through elections.
FRENTE used its power within the student associations to launch a political campaign for the 1978 university general elections, allied with leftist Faculty members grouped in "University Vanguard". The alliance was effective and Oliverio Castañeda de León was elected as President of the Student Body and Saúl Osorio Paz as President of the University; plus they had ties with the University workers union (STUSC) thru their PGT connections. Osorio Paz gave space and support to the student movement and instead of having a conflictive relationship with students, different representations combined to build a higher education institution of higher social projection. In 1978 the University of San Carlos became one of the sectors with more political weight in Guatemala; that year the student movement, faculty and University Governing Board -Consejo Superior Universitario-[g] united against the government and were in favor of opening spaces for the neediest sectors. In order to expand its university extension, the Student Body (AEU) rehabilitated the "Student House" in downtown Guatemala City; there, they welcomed and supported families of villagers and peasant already sensitized politically. They also organized groups of workers in the informal trade.
At the beginning of his tenure as President, Saúl Osorio founded the weekly Siete Días en la USAC (Seven Days in USAC), which besides reporting on the activities of the University, constantly denounced the violation of human rights, especially the repression against the popular movement. It also told what was happening with revolutionary movements in both Nicaragua and El Salvador . For a few months, the state university was a united and progressive institution, preparing to confront the State head on.
Now, FRENTE had to face the radical left, represented then by the Student Revolutionary Front "Robin García" (FERG), which emerged during the Labor Day march of 1 May 1978. FERG coordinated several student associations on different colleges within University of San Carlos and public secondary education institutions. This coordination between legal groups came from the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), a guerrilla group that had appeared in 1972 and had its headquarters in the oil rich region of northern Quiché department -i.e., the Ixil Triangle of Ixcán, Nebaj and Chajul in Franja Transversal del Norte. Although not strictly an armed group, FERG sought confrontation with government forces all the time, giving prominence to measures that could actually degenerate into mass violence and paramilitary activity. Its members were not interested in working within an institutional framework and never asked permission for their public demonstrations or actions.
On 7 March 1978 Lucas Garcia was elected President; shortly after, on 29 May 1978 -in the late days of General Laugerud García government- in the central square of Panzós, Alta Verapaz, members of the Zacapa Military Zone attacked a peaceful peasant demonstration, killing a lot of people. The deceased, indigenous peasants who had been summoned in place, were fighting for the legalization of public lands they had occupied for years. Their struggle faced them directly with investors who wanted to exploit the mineral wealth of the area, particularly oil reserves -by Basic Resources International and Shenandoah Oil- and nickel -EXMIBAL. The Panzós Massacre caused a stir at the University by the high number of victims and conflicts arose from the exploitation of natural resources by foreign companies. In 1978 for example, Osorio Paz and other university received death threats for their outspoken opposition to the construction of an inter-oceanic pipeline that would cross the country to facilitate oil exploration. On June 8 the AEU organized a massive protest in downtown Guatemala City where speakers denounced the slaughter of Panzós and expressed their repudiation of Laugerud García regime in stronger terms than ever before.
Lucas Garcia presidency
Escalation of violence
The election of Lucas García on 7 March 1978 marked the beginning of a full return to the counterinsurgency practices of the 1960s and early-1970s. This was compounded by reaction of the Guatemalan military to the situation unfolding in Nicaragua at the time, where the popularly-supported Sandinista insurgency was on the verge of toppling the Somoza regime. After the massacre at Panzos, repression against the Indian population became increasingly ruthless, often with the direct participation of local landowners. On 8 September 1978 the Mobile Military Police of Monteros, Esquipulas, on orders from local landowners César Lemus and Domingo Interiano, abducted eight campesinos from Olopa, Chiquimula. On September 26, the PMA abducted an additional 15 campesinos from the same locality. All were subsequently found dead from drowning and hanging. The next day, the 27th, the Assistant mayor of Amatillo, Francisco Garcia, addressed himself to the Court of Olopa to report on the events and to request identification of the bodies in order to bury them. That very night Garcia was also abducted and murdered, presumably by members of the security forces. All told, more than 100 villagers of Olopa were murdered by the Mobile Military Police during this period, including several religious workers, 15 women and more than 40 children. The PMA were reported by peasants to murder small children in Olopa by grabbing them and breaking their backs over the knees.
At the same time the EGP was expanding its presence in the Altiplano, a new insurgent movement called the ORPA (Revolutionary Organization of Armed People) made itself known. Composed of local youths and university intellectuals, the ORPA developed out of a movement called the Regional de Occidente, which split from the FAR-PGT in 1971. The ORPA's leader, Rodrigo Asturias (a former activist with the PGT and first-born son of Nobel Prize-winning author Miguel Ángel Asturias), formed the organization after returning from exile in Mexico. The ORPA established an operational base in the mountains and rain-forests above the coffee plantations of southwestern Guatemala and in the Atitlan where it enjoyed considerable popular support. On September 18, 1979, the ORPA made its existence publicly known when it occupied the Mujulia coffee farm in the coffee-growing region of the Quezaltenango province to hold a political education meeting with the workers.
In 1979 the EGP controlled a large amount of territory in the Ixil Triangle and held many demonstrations in Nebaj, Chajul and Cotzal. That year, the owners of "La Perla" established links with the army and for the first time a military detachment was installed within the property; in this same building the first civil patrol of the area was established. The Army high command, meanwhile, was very pleased with the initial results of the operation and was convinced it had succeeded in destroying most of the social basis of EGP, which had to be expelled from the "Ixil Triangle". Army repression in the region became more intense and less selective then it had been under Laugerud Garcia; the officers who executed the plan were instructed to destroy all towns suspected of cooperating with EGP and eliminate all sources of resistance. Army units operating in the "Ixil Triangle" belonged to the Mariscal Zavala Brigade, stationed in Guatemala City. Moreover, although the EGP did not intervene directly when the army attacked the civilian population - allegedly due to a lack of supplies and ammunition - it did support some survival strategies. It streamlined, for example, "survival plans" designed to give evacuation instructions in assumption that military incursions took place. Most of the population began to participate in the schemes finding that they represented their only alternative to military repression.
In December 1979, the Guatemalan Army staged a false flag incident in Chajul - ostensibly to justify repressive measures against the city. On 6 December 1979, the Guatemalan Army abducted nine peasants from Uspantán and transported them to Chajul in a helicopter. Two of the peasants captured by the army managed to escape, while those remaining were dressed in olive drab by the army. After being put in uniform, the peasants were equipped with shotguns and instructed by soldiers to march down a road outside of Chajul. The soldiers then opened fire on the peasants, killing all seven. The army announced that the campesinos were guerillas, who had attempted to assault the detachment at Chajul. The bodies were later burned and buried. Within three weeks the army presence in Chajul grew and repression escalated.
Civil war in the city
On 4 August 1978, high school and university students, along with other popular movement sectors, organized the mass movement's first urban protest of the Lucas García period. The protests, intended as a march against violence, were attended by an estimated 10,000 people. The new minister of the interior under President Lucas García, Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz, promised to break up any protests done without government permission. The protesters were then met by the Pelotón Modelo (Model Platoon) of the Guatemalan National Police, then under the new director-general, Colonel Germán Chupina Barahona, who had previously been the head of the Mobile Military Police (PMA) under Laugerud Garcia. Employing new anti-riot gear donated by the United States Government, Platoon agents surrounded marchers and tear-gassed them. Students were forced to retreat and dozens of people, mostly school-aged adolescents, were hospitalized. This was followed by more protests and death squad killings throughout the later part of the year. In September 1978 a general strike broke out to protest sharp increases in public transportation fares; the government responded harshly, arresting dozens of protesters and injuring many more. However, as a result of the campaign, the government agreed to the protesters' demands, including the establishment of a public transportation subsidy.
Under Interior Minister Donaldo Álvarez and Col. Germán Chupina, the government began a campaign of massive repression in the capital, with direct executive involvement in selective terror. A new agency known as the Presidential General Staff (known by the Spanish acronym EMP) was placed under the command of Col. Héctor Ismael Montalván Batres in 1979. After its formation, the EMP took control of the telecommunications unit La Regional which was renamed Archivo General y Servicios de Apoyo del EMP - AGSAEMP - or Archivo for short. As documented in Amnesty International's 1981 report, the telecommunications annex of the National Palace served as a command center for the death squads, as it had in the early 1970s under Arana. A center existed within the National Police known as the Joint Operations Center (Centro de Operaciones Conjuntas de la Policía – COCP), which forwarded intelligence on "subversives" from the National Police headquarters to the Archivos. Such information included the names of potential death squad victims. Documents were later recovered from the National Police archives which were sent from the COCP to the EMP to notify its agents of "delinquent subversives" and their whereabouts, including exact addresses.[h]
At the National Palace, a special group known as the CRIO (Centro de Reunion de Informacion y Operaciones) would convene to review operational intelligence and plan counterinsurgency operations. The CRIO consisted of all of the country's primary intelligence and security chiefs, including Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia, Col. Chupina, Interior Minister Donaldo Alvarez, Gen. Hector Antonio Callejas y Callejas (Chief of the G-2 under Lucas) and the heads of the Treasury Police and the Chief of Migration. It based on meetings of the CRIO that "hit lists" for the death squads were drawn up. 
Under Lucas, shadow organizations which had provided a smokescreen for the counter-terror operations of the late 1960s and early 1970s were reconstituted under new names such as the Escuadron de la Muerte (EM or Death Squad) and the ESA (Secret Anti-Communist Army), which was allegedly run by Col. Germán Chupina. Abductions and disappearances of civilians by these squads were carried out under the public eye by heavily armed personnel sometimes identifying openly as members of the security forces, and traveling in vehicles easily identifiable as belonging to the Guatemalan National Police and other security agencies, particularly red Toyota jeeps either unmarked or sporting military license number sequences. Victims represented all sectors of Guatemalan society and were seized without legal authorization from homes, places of work, conventions or en route to various places. Unrecognizable cadavers were frequently found mutilated and showing signs of torture.
When questioned by the international press and human rights organizations about the killings, the Lucas government denied its involvement in death squads and made the distinction between killings of "common criminals" which it maintained were carried out by the EM and murders of the government's political opposition which were officially attributed to the ESA. In an April 1979 press interview, Interior Minister Donaldo Álvarez referred to the death squad killings as the liquidation of criminals and compared the actions of the death squads in Guatemala to "the famous Brazilian Escuadrao de Morte". In November 1979, the Guatemalan press reported that 3,252 victims of the Death Squad had been recorded in the first 10 months of the year.
The bodies of many of those abducted by the death squads in the city were disposed of in San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, which became notorious as a dumping ground for cadavers. In March 1980 the cadavers of student activist Liliana Negreros and some three dozen others were found in a ravine on the outskirts of Comalapa. Most had been killed with a garrote and showed signs of torture. The U.S. embassy called the discovery "ominous" and suggested that the extreme right was responsible. CIA sources indicated that "Highest levels of the Guatemala government through the National Police hierarchy are fully aware of the background of the burial site. .[It] was a place where the National Police Detective Corps disposed of its victims after interrogations."
In response to the increasing number of disappearances and killings, the insurgency began an campaign of selective assassinations against the security forces, beginning with the assassination of José Antonio "El Chino" Lima López - a notorious torturer and second in command of the Commando Six unit of the National Police - on January 15, 1980. On the day of his death, Lima López was sporting a US Army signet ring. Weld The National Police said López, 32, had driven away from his house in downtown Guatemala City when gunmen in another vehicle pulled up next to him and opened fire with automatic rifles, killing him instantly. None of the insurgent groups operating in the Guatemala immediately took responsibility.
On 31 January 1980, a group of displaced 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. A special meeting was held in the National Palace by President Romeo Lucas, Col. Germán Chupina Barahona, and Minister of the Interior Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz. Despite pleas by Spanish Ambassador Máximo Cajal y López to negotiate, a decision was taken to forcibly expel the group occupying the embassy. Shortly before noon, and before the protesters could air their grievances, about 300 heavily armed state agents including municipal police, members of the Detective Corps, the G-2 (army intelligence), the anti-riot Model Platoon of the National Police, and the Commando Six counterinsurgency unit of the National Police cordoned off the area to vehicular traffic and cut the electricity, water and telephone lines. Under the orders from Lt. Colonel Pedro Garcia Arredondo, the Commando Six proceeded to occupy the first and third floors of the building over the shouts of Ambassador Cajal that they were violating international law in doing so. The peasants barricaded themselves, along with the captive embassy staff and the visiting Guatemalan officials, in the ambassador's office on the second floor. A fire ensued as the National Police prevented those inside of the embassy from exiting the building. In all, 36 people were killed in the fire. The funeral of the victims (including the hitherto obscure father of Rigoberta Menchú, Vicente Menchú) attracted hundreds of thousands of mourners, and a new guerrilla group was formed commemorating the date, the Frente patriotico 31 de enero (Patriotic Front of 31 January). The incident has been called "the defining event" of the Guatemalan Civil War. The Guatemalan government issued a statement claiming that its forces had entered the embassy at the request of the Spanish Ambassador, and that the occupiers of the embassy, whom they referred to as "terrorists," had "sacrificed the hostages and immolated themselves afterward." Ambassador Cajal denied the claims of the Guatemalan government and Spain immediately terminated diplomatic relations with Guatemala, calling the action a violation of "the most elementary norms of international law." Relations between Spain and Guatemala were not normalized until September 22, 1984.
The climate of fear maintained by the Lucas government in Guatemala City persisted through 1980 and 1981. Political killings and disappearances of residents were common-place and ordinary residents lived in terror of the death squads. A coordinated campaign against trade unionists was undertaken by the National Police under Col. German Chupina, who had close ties with the American Chamber of Commerce and with numerous business leaders. The manager of the Coca-Cola franchise in Guatemala City, John C. Trotter from Texas, was apparently a personal friend of Col. Chupina. Trotter would allegedly contact Col. Chupina via telephone regarding the activities of the union at the plant, and many unionists subsequently disappeared or were found dead later. The insurgents had attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate Col. Chupina, as well as Interior Minister Donaldo Álvarez, in March 1980.
In one incident on June 21, 1980, 60 non-uniformed agents - likely from the Detectives Corps - seized and detained 27 members of the National Workers Union (CNT) during an attack on its headquarters, in which uniformed police blocked off the streets surrounding the building. The trade unionists were taken away in unmarked Toyota jeeps or forced into their own cars and taken away. All 27 members of the CNT seized on that day disappeared while in the custody of the police. Among those abducted were members of the union representing the workers of the Coca-Cola plant under John Trotter.
On July 7, 1980, Col. Miguel Angel Natareno Salazar, head of the infamous Fourth Corps of the National Police, was assassinated along with his driver and two bodyguards while on his way to work. This was followed by the assassinations of three police agents, two special agents of the Army G-2 and a security guard of the Ministry of the Interior in the following week.
On August 24, 1980, plainclothes National Police and Army soldiers under the direction of Alfonso Ortiz, the Deputy Chief of the Detectives Corps, abducted 17 union leaders and a Catholic administrator from a seminar at the "Emaus Medio Monte" estate belonging to the diocese of Escuintla, on the southern coast of Guatemala. The detainees were taken to the garages of National Police in Zone 6 of Guatemala City where they were tortured under the direction of the former head of Commando Six, Col. Pedro Garcia Arredondo, who had been promoted to Chief of the Detectives Corps. All 17 unionists subsequently disappeared after being tortured under Col. Arredondo.
On 5 September 1980 the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP) carried out a terrorist attack right in front of the Guatemalan National Palace, then the headquarters of the Guatemalan government. The intention was to prevent a huge demonstration that the government had prepared for Sunday, 7 September 1980. In the attack, six adults and a little boy died after two bombs inside a vehicle went off. There was an undetermined number of wounded and heavy material losses, not only from art pieces from the National Palace, but from all the surrounding buildings, particularly in the Lucky Building, which is right across the Presidential Office.[i]
As killings by government security forces and death squads increased, so did terrorist attacks against private financial, commercial and agricultural targets by the insurgents, who saw those institutions as "reactionaries" and "millionaire exploiters" that were collaborating with the genocidal government. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the terrorist attacks that occurred in Guatemala city and are presented in the UN Commission report:
|15 September 1981||Rebel Army Forces||Corporación Financiera Nacional (CORFINA)||Car bomb damaged the building and neighbor Guatemalan and international financial institutions; there were more than Q300k in losses.|
|19 October 1981||EGP Urban guerilla||Industrial Bank Financial Center||Building sabotage.|
|21 December 1981||EGP "Otto René Castillo" commando||Bombs against newly built structures: Chamber of Industry, Torre Panamericana (Bank of Coffee headquarters) and Industrial Bank Financial Center||Car bombs completely destroyed the buildings windows.|
|28 December de 1981||EGP "Otto René Castillo" commando||Industrial Bank Financial Center||Car bomb against the building which virtually destroyed one of the bank towers.[j]|
Despite advances by the insurgency, the insurgency made a series of fatal strategic errors. The successes made by the revolutionary forces in Nicaragua against the Somoza regime combined with the insurgency's own successes against the Lucas government led rebel leaders to falsely conclude that a military equilibrium was being reached in Guatemala, thus the insurgency underestimated the military strength of the government. The insurgency subsequently found itself overwhelmed on both fronts.
On the urban front, the armed forces began to utilize more sophisticated technology to combat the insurgency. With help of advisors from Israel, a computer system was installed in the annex of the EMP behind the presidential palace in 1980. This computer system incorporated a data analysis system developed during the "Dirty War" in Argentina, and passed on by military advisors from Argentina. This data system enabled the government to monitor electrical and water usage as a means of pinpointing the coordinates of potential guerrilla safe-houses. Thirty safe-houses were raided in Guatemala City in the summer of 1981 according to G-2 sources.
Insurgent mobilization in the countryside
The daily number of killings by official and unofficial security forces increased from an average of 20 to 30 in 1979 to a conservative estimate of 30 to 40 daily in 1980. Human rights sources estimated 5,000 Guatemalans were killed by the government for "political reasons" in 1980 alone, making Guatemala the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere after El Salvador. In a report titled Guatemala: A Government Program of Political Murder, Amnesty International stated, "Between January and November of 1980, some 3,000 people described by government representatives as "subversives" and "criminals" were either shot on the spot in political assassinations or seized and murdered later; at least 364 others seized in this period have not yet been accounted for." 
The repression and excessive force used by the government against the opposition was such that it became source of contention within Lucas Garcia's administration itself. This contention within the government caused Lucas Garcia's Vice President Francisco Villagrán Kramer to resign from his position on September 1, 1980. In his resignation, Kramer cited his disapproval of the government's human rights record as one of the primary reasons for his resignation. He then went into voluntary exile in the United States, taking a position in the Legal Department of the Inter-American Development Bank.
In 1980, armed insurgents assassinated prominent Ixil landowner Enrique Brol, and president of the CACIF (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations) Alberto Habie. In October 1980, a tripartite alliance was formalized between the EGP, the FAR and the ORPA as a precondition for Cuban-backing.
In early 1981, the insurgency mounted the largest offensive in the country's history. This was followed by an additional offensive towards the end of the year, in which many civilians were forced to participate by the insurgents. Villagers worked with the insurgency to sabotage roads and army establishments, and destroy anything of strategic value to the armed forces. By 1981, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 members of Guatemala's indigenous community actively supported the insurgency. Guatemalan Army Intelligence (G-2) estimated a minimum 360,000 indigenous supporters of the EGP alone.
On April 15, 1981, EGP rebels attacked a Guatemalan Army patrol from the village of Cocob near Nebaj, killing five personnel. On April 17, 1981, a reinforced company of Airborne troops was deployed to the village. They discovered fox holes, guerrillas and a hostile population. The local people appeared to fully support the guerrillas. "The soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved." The army killed 65 civilians, including 34 children, five adolescents, 23 adults and two elderly people.
La Llorona massacre, El Estor
La Llorona, located about 18 kilometers from El Estor, department of Izabal (part of the Northern Transversal Strip), was a small village with no more than twenty houses. Most of the first settlers arrived from the areas of Senahú and Panzós, both in Alta Verapaz. In 1981 the total population was about 130 people, all belonging to q'eqchi' ethnic group. Few people spoke Spanish and most work in their own cornfields, sporadicly working for the to local landowners. In the vicinity are the villages El Bongo, Socela, Benque, Rio Pita, Santa Maria, Big Plan and New Hope. Conflicts in the area were related to land tenure, highlighting the uncertainty about the boundaries between farms and communities, and the lack of titles. As in the National Institute of Agrarian Transformation (INTA) was not registered a legitimate owner of land occupied La Llorona, the community remained in the belief that the land belonged to the state, which had taken steps to obtain title property. However, a farmer with great influence in the area occupied part of the land, generating a conflict between him and the community; men of the village, on its own initiative, devised a new boundary between community land and the farmer, but the problem remained dormant.
In the second half of the seventies were the first news about the presence of guerrillas in the villages, the commander aparacimiento Ramon, talking to people and saying they were the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. They passed many villages asking what problems people had and offering to solve them. They told peasants that the land belonged to the poor and that they should trust them. In 1977, Ramon a -guerilla commander- regularly visited the village of La Llorona and after finding that the issue of land was causing many problems in the community, taught people to practice new measurements, which spread fear among landowners. That same year, the group under Ramon arbitrarily executed the Spanish landowner José Hernández, near El Recreo, which he owner. Following this, a clandestine group of mercenaries, dubbed "fighters of the rich" was formed to protect the interests of landlords; public authority of El Estor organized the group and paid its members, stemming from the funding of major landowners. The group, irregular, was related to the military commissioners of the region and with commanders of the Army, although mutual rivalries also took place. The secret organization murdered several people, including victims who had no connection whatsoever with insurgent groups.
In December 1978, the EGP group leader, Ramon, was captured by soldiers of the military detachment in El Estor and transferred to the military zone of Puerto Barrios; after two years returned to El Estor; but this time as an officer in the Army G2 and joined a group of soldiers that came to the village. On the evening of 28 September 1981, an army officer accompanied by four soldiers and a military commissioner met with about thirty civilians. At seven o'clock, over thirty civilians, mostly from "Nueva Esperanza', including several 'informants' known to military intelligence, gathered around La Llorona along with some military commissioners and a small group of soldiers and army officers. Then they entered the village. Civilians and commissioners entered twelve houses, and each of them were pulling men and shot them dead outside their own homes; those who tried to escape were also killed. Women who tried to protect their husbands were beatn. While the military commissioners and civilians executed men, soldiers subtracted belongings of the victims; within half an hour, the authors of the assault left the village. The victim bodies, fourteen in all, were in front of houses. Women, despite having been threatened with death if tell what happened, ran to the nearest village, El Bongo, for help. After a few hours, women came back with people who helped to bury the bodies. Days later, widows, with almost 60 fatherless children were welcomed by the parish of El Estor for several days, until the soldiers forced them to return to their village. Two widows of those executed on September 29 established close relations with the military commissioners from Bongo. This situation led to divisions that still exist in the community.
The economic and social activity was disrupted in the village: widows had to take the jobs of their husbands; because of their lack of knowledge in the cultivation of land, harvested very little corn and beans. There were diseases, especially among children and the elderly, there was no food or clothing. The teacher of the village came only part-time, mostly out of fear, but left after he realized it was not worth to stay because young people had to work. Nor could they spend money on travel. The village had no teacher for the next four years. The events generated finally the breakup of the community. Some village women though that their husbands were killed because of three others who were linked with the guerrillas and were involved in a land dispute.
According to the Historical Clarification Commission, the landlord with whom the villagers had the land dispute took advantage of the situation to appropriate another twelve acres of land.
List of other massacres perpetrated by the Army in Franja Transversal del Norte
The report of the Recovery of Historical Memory lists 422 massacres committed by both sides in the conflict; however, it also states that they did the best they could in terms of obtaining information and therefore the list is incomplete; therefore here are the cases that have also been documented in other reports as well.
|1||Ilom (village), Chajul||Quiché||23 March 1982||After 1981 repression against Ilom was rampant, ending with the massacre of 96 alleged guerilla members in front of their families on 23 March 1982. Soldiers were from the military base in "La Perla" while survivors fled and seek shelter in Comunidades de Población en Resistencia -Resistance population communities-.|
|2||Chel (village), Chajul||Quiché||3 April 1982||A part of operation "Victoria 82", Army soldiers from the military fort in "La Perla" rushed into Chel settlement, because it had been targeted as "subversive". The attack left 95 dead civilians.|
|3||Chisis (village), San Juan Cotzal||Quiché||13 February 1982||Chisís was a military target for the Army, who considered the village symbolic for the EGP and believited it was the guerrilla headquarters where the attacks in Chajul, Cotzal, and Nebaj had been planned. On January 1982, EGP attacked Cotzal military base; the attack lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes, resulting 100 military casualties and 20 for the guerilla. PAC and Army battalions, in revenge, completely destroy Chisis, leaving approximately 200 dead civilians behind.|
|4||Acul (village), Nebaj||Quiché||April 1982||Combat against EGP. There were 17 deaths.|
List of massacres perpetrated by the EGP in FTN
According to a report by the rightist magazine "Crónica", there were 1258 guerrilla actions against civilians and infrastructure in Guatemala, including more than two hundred murders, sixty eight kidnappings, eleven bombs against embassies and three hundred twenty-nine attacks against civilians. Almost all guerrilla massacres occurred in 1982 when further militarization reigned and there was widespread presence of PAC in communities; many of them were victims of non-cooperation with the guerrillas and in some cases they came after a previous attack by the PAC. In the massacres perpetrated by the guerrillas there is no use of informants, or concentration of population, or separation of groups; also, there are no recounts of rape or repetitive slaughter. There are cases of razed villages and less tendency to mass flight, even thought it occurred in some cases. the use of lists was also more frequent.
In a publication of the Army of Guatemala, sixty massacres perpetrated by the EGP were reported, arguing that they were mostly ignored by REHMI and the Historical Clarification Commission reports. It is also reported that in mid-1982, 32 members of "Star Guerilla Front " were shot for not raising the EGP flag.
|1||Calapté, Uspantán||Quiché||17 February 1982||There were 42 fatal victims, who were murdered with machetes.|
|2||Salacuín||Alta Verapaz||May 1982||EGP entered the community and murdered 20 peasants.|
|3||El Conguito (settlement), Las Pacayas (village), San Cristóbal Verapaz||Alta Verapaz||1981|
|4||Sanimtakaj (village), San Cristóbal Verapaz||Alta Verapaz||1980|
|5||San Miguel Sechochoch (farm), Chisec||Alta Verapaz||March 1982|
|6||Chacalté, Chajul||Quiché||June 1982||Attack against a "reactionary gang"[k] from the PAC in Chacalté, that had just formed in March and was loyal to the Army after becoming disillusioned with guerilla promises. Resulted in 55 dead civilians.|
|7||San Miguel Acatán (town), San Miguel Acatán||Huehuetenango||Unknown|
|8||Santa Cruz del Quiche (city), Santa Cruz del Quiché||Quiché||July 1982|
|9||Chuacaman (settlement), El Carmen Chitatul (village), Santa Cruz del Quiché||Quiché||December 1982|
|10||La Estancia(village), Santa Cruz del Quiché||Quiché||August 1981|
|11||Xesic (village), Santa Cruz del Quiché||Quiché||1981|
|12||Patzité (town)||Quiché||September 1981|
|13||Lancetillo (village), Uspantán||Quiché||September 1982|
|14||La Taña (village), Uspantán||Quiché||March 1982|
|15||Tzununul (village), Sacapulas||Quiché||February 1982|
|16||Salinas Magdalena (village), Sacapulas||Quiché||August 1982|
|17||Rosario Monte María (village), Chicamán||Quiché||October 1982|
In 1980 and 1981, the United States delivered $10.5 million worth of Bell 212 and Bell 412 helicopters and $3.2 million worth of military trucks and jeeps to the Guatemalan Army. The Reagan administration also approved a $2 million covert CIA program for Guatemala in 1981. Relying on continued material support from the United States, the armed forces under Army Chief of Staff, Benedicto Lucas Garcia (the president's brother, known as "General Benny") initiated a strategy of "scorched earth"  to "separate and isolate the insurgents from the civilian population", under the code-name "Operación Ceniza" ("Operation Ash"). In a strategy developed jointly by Benedicto Lucas Garcia and Lieutenant Col. George Maynes (U.S. Defense Attache and Chief of the U.S. MilGroup in Guatemala), some 15,000 troops were deployed on a gradual sweep through the highlands.
The scorched-earth offensive under General Benedicto Lucas reportedly began on Guatemala's economically important Pacific coast in August 1981. The new offensive was accompanied by continued selective killings of both real and suspected insurgent collaborators and massacres. At the time, the National Institute of Cooperatives (INACOOP) declared 250 rural cooperatives illegal in Guatemala, due to alleged ties with Marxist subversion. Subsequently, the army used the official membership lists of these cooperatives as death lists and many cooperative members within the indigenous community in the highlands were assassinated by army death squads or "disappeared" after being taken into custody.
By way of a policy of forced recruitment, Gen. Benedicto Lucas began organizing a "task-force" model for fighting the insurgency, by which strategic mobile forces of 3,000 to 5,000 troops were drawn from larger military brigades for search and destroy missions in the highlands.  On 1 October 1981, a new "task-force" known as 'Iximche' was deployed on counterinsurgency sweep through Chimaltenango, eventually moving into El Quiche and part of Solola later in the year. In Rabinal, Alta Verapaz on 20 October 1981, the military seized and armed 1,000 Indian men and organized them into one of the first "civil patrols" of the decade, a feat which was illegal under the Guatemalan constitution at the time. In a matter of months, the army implemented this system on a widespread basis on the countryside. In creating these militias, Gen. Benedicto Lucas effectively created a structure which superseded local government and was directly subservient to white ladino military authority.
Using 1,500 troops, the army retook the village of Chupol, Quiche in the first week of December 1981.  Wholesale massacres of indigenous peasant communities became commonplace, in what was perceived at the time as a marked change in strategy. In some communities of the region's military forced all residents to leave their homes and concentrate in the county seat under military control. Some families obeyed; others took refuge in the mountains. K'iche's who took refuge in the mountains, were identified by the Army with the guerrillas and underwent a military siege, and continuous attacks that prevented them from getting food, shelter and medical care. Sources with the human rights office of the Catholic Church estimated the death toll from government repression in 1981 at over 11,000, with most of the victims indigenous peasants of the Guatemalan highlands.
As army repression intensified in the countryside, relations between the Guatemalan military establishment and the Lucas Garcia regime worsened. Professionals within the Guatemalan military considered the Lucas approach counterproductive, on grounds that the Lucas government's strategy of military action and systematic terror overlooked the social and ideological causes of the insurgency while radicalizing the civilian population. Additionally, Lucas went against the military's interests by endorsing his defense minister, Angel Anibal Guevara, as a candidate in the March 1982 presidential elections.
1982 coup d'état and Ríos Montt regime
On 23 March 1982, junior officers under the command of General Efraín Ríos Montt staged a coup d'état and deposed General Romeo Lucas Garcia. The coup was not supported by any entities within the Lucas government aside from the junior officers involved in engineering the coup. At the time of the coup, the majority of Lucas Garcia's senior officers were reportedly unaware of any previous coup plotting on the part of the junior officers or any other entity. General Lucas was reportedly prepared to resist the coup, and could have easily opposed the coup with his own contingent of troops stationed at the presidential palace, but was coerced into surrendering by being shown his mother and sister held with rifles to their heads. After the overthrow of Lucas Garcia, the home of Lucas's Interior Minister Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz was raided, uncovering a printing press, clandestine jail cells and property taken from police torture victims, including fifty stolen vehicles and scores of gold graduation rings.
Within two months after seizing power, Ríos Montt worked to strengthen his personal power and began eliminating those officers which he believed to be involved in counter-coup plotting. One particularly cohesive group of officers opposed to Ríos was the Guatemalan Military Academy promotion class number 73. To intimidate these officers and stifle plans for a counter-coup, Ríos Montt ordered the arrest and investigation of three of its most prominent members: Captains Mario López Serrano, Roberto Enrique Letona Hora and Otto Pérez Molina. He threatened to expose evidence of their corruption if they continued to oppose him. On July 9, 1982, Ríos Montt forced two members of the junta to resign, leaving him in complete control of the government, as both the de facto head of the armed forces and Minister of Defense.
'Victoria 82' and 'Operation Sofia'
The architects of the counterinsurgency program under Rios Montt were aware of the social problems generated by the counterinsurgency under Lucas Garcia; the most counterproductive was the widespread antipathy generated amongst towards the State through indiscriminate mass murder. A compromise was reached between the army's drive to eradicate the insurgency and the desire to "win the hearts and minds" of the civilian population and new counterinsurgency program known as "Victoria 82" was implemented on June 6, 1982. The authors of the plan emphasized that "The population's mentality is the principal objective". The program combined the brutal scorched-earth tactics developed and executed under Benedicto Lucas Garcia with social welfare programs and government assistance, both to incentivize civilian cooperation with the army and mitigate the negative effects of army massacres. Ríos Montt also expanded on the "civic action" strategy, which began under Benedicto Lucas. The civilian paramilitary bands fielded by Lucas were renamed "civilian self-defense patrols" (PACs), and the army began conscripting large portions of the rural civilian population into the militias. At the start of the Rios Montt period there were approximately 25,000 civilians in the PACs. In the subsequent eighteen months, this number grew to 700,000, due to a policy of forced conscription. Dissenters to the establishment of civil patrols in their villages were often marked for death or other violent reprisal by the army.
Despite the implementation of social welfare and civil action programs, "Victoria 82" still sought first and foremost to destroy the guerrilla forces and their base through operations of annihilation and the scorched earth tactics. As stated in the plan's "Purpose" (II/A/1-3), the army's job was to:
- Defend the population.
- Recover members of the Irregular Local Forces (Fuerzas Irregulares Locales-FIL) when possible while eliminating subversives who refuse to lay down their weapons.
- Annihilate the Clandestine Local Committees (Comités Clandestinos Locales-CCL) and the Permanent Military Units ( Unidades Militares Permanentes-UMP) of the enemy.
Although the plan distinguished between the army's objectives regarding the FIL and the CCL, both groups were local unarmed campesinos living and working in the targeted areas of operation. The FIL were civilians whose routine labors continued — tending their crops in the field or their domestic responsibilities — while they contributed to self-defense actions to hinder the Army's activities. The CCL were local leaders, often communitarian authorities, who served as political representatives for the guerrilla. The death of these leaders was a priority for the Army because it signified the end of the political connection between the guerrilla units and their bases of social support.
In the remote Guatemalan highlands, where the military classified those most isolated as being more accessible to the guerrillas, it identified many villages and communities as "red" and targeted them for annihilation. This was especially true in El Quiche, where the army had a well-documented belief from the Benedicto Lucas period that the entire indigenous population of the Ixil area was pro-EGP. A major part of Rios Montt's pacification strategy in El Quiche was "Operation Sofia," which began on July 8, 1982 on orders from Army Chief of Staff Héctor Mario López Fuentes. "Operation Sofia" was planned and executed by the 1st Battalion of the Guatemalan Airborne Troops with the mission to "exterminate the subversive elements in the area - Quiché."
During Ríos Montt's tenure, the abuse of the civilian population by the army and the PACs approached overkill. Civilians are reported to have been beheaded, garroted, burned alive, bludgeoned to death, or hacked to death with machetes. At least 250,000 children nationwide were estimated to have lost at least one parent to the violence; in El Quiche province alone these children numbered 24,000. In many cases, the Guatemalan military specifically targeted children and the elderly. Soldiers were reported to have killed children in front of their parents by smashing their heads against trees and rocks. Amnesty International documented that the rate of rape of civilian women by the military increased during this period, including rape of pregnant women.
The CIIDH database documented 18,000 killings by government forces in the year 1982. In April 1982 alone (General Efraín Ríos Montt's first full month in office), the military committed 3,330 documented killings, a rate of approximately 111 per day. Historians and analysts estimate the total death toll could exceed this number by the tens of thousands. Some sources estimate a death toll of up to 75,000 during the Rios Montt period, mostly within the first eight months between April and November 1982.
While wholesale killings of indigenous peasants escalated to unprecedented levels in the countryside, "death squad" killings in the cities decreased. A U.S. defense attaché report informed Washington in April 1982 that "The army intended to act with two sets of rules, one to protect and respect the rights of average citizens who lived in secure areas (mostly in the cities) and had nothing to do with subversion. The second set of rules would be applied to the areas where subversion was prevalent. In these areas ('war zones') the rules of unconventional warfare would apply. Guerrillas would be destroyed by fire and their infrastructure eradicated by social welfare programs."
Pursuant with the army's new "set of rules", Rios Montt began to make changes in the intelligence apparatus and disbanded - or renamed - some of the security structures which had become infamous for repression in the capital under previous regimes. In March 1982, shortly after the coup, Rios Montt disbanded the 'Detectives Corps' of the National Police and replaced it with the 'Department of Technical Investigations' (DIT). Additionally, Col. Germán Chupina Barahona - who was responsible for much of the repression in the capital under Lucas - was forced to resign and Col. Hernán Ponce Nitsch, a former instructor at the US Army School of the Americas, was appointed as director-general of the National Police. Col. Hector Ismael Montalván Batres was retained for a period as the chief of the EMP after the coup, due to his experience.
Since the insurgency operated in remote rural areas, the application of "unconventional warfare" became less prevalent in the capital. According to some observers, the decline in extralegal tactics by the National Police and intelligence services and the passing of press censorship laws offered the regime some degree of plausible deniability and fostered the misconception on the outside and among city dwellers that political repression was on a downward trend in Guatemala.
However, in February 1983, a then-confidential CIA cable noted a rise in "suspect right-wing violence" in the capital, with an increasing number of kidnappings (particularly of educators and students) and a concomitant increase in the number of corpses recovered from ditches and gullies, previously a characteristic of state-terror under the Lucas Garcia regime. The cable traced the wave of death squad repression to an October 1982 meeting by General Ríos Montt with the "Archivos" intelligence unit in which he gave agents full authorization to "apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit." This marked the beginning of a gradual return to the conditions which prevailed in Guatemala City under Rios Montt's predecessors.
Mejia Victores regime and democratic transition: 1983–1986
Ríos Montt was deposed on 8 August 1983 by his own 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, founding the Guatemalan Republican Front party in 1989. Elected to Congress, he was elected President of Congress in 1995 and 2000.
By the time Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores assumed power, the counterinsurgency under Lucas Garcia and Ríos Montt had largely succeeded in its objective of detaching the insurgency from its civilian support base. Additionally, Guatemalan military intelligence (G-2) had succeeded in infiltrating most of the political institutions. It eradicated opponents in the government through terror and selective assassinations. The counterinsurgency program had militarized Guatemalan society, creating a fearful atmosphere of terror that suppressed most public agitation and insurgency. The military had consolidated its power in virtually all sectors of society.
In 1983, indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú published a memoir of her life during that period, I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala, which gained worldwide attention. She is the daughter of one of the peasant leaders that died in the Spanish Embassy massacre on January 31, 1980 and was heavily coached by the intellectuals in the leftist guerrillas after that. She was later awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize -on the year of the Fifth Centennial celebration of America Discovery- for her work in favor of broader social justice.[l] Her memoir drew international attention to Guatemala and the nature of its institutional terrorism.
Due to international pressure, as well as pressure from other Latin American nations, General Mejía Victores allowed a gradual return to democracy in Guatemala. On 1 July 1984 an election was held for representatives to a Constituent Assembly to draft a democratic constitution. On 30 May 1985, the Constituent Assembly finished drafting a new constitution, which took effect immediately. General elections were scheduled, and civilian candidate Vinicio Cerezo was elected as president. The gradual revival of "democracy" did not end the "disappearances" and death squad killings, as extrajudicial state violence had become an integral part of the political culture.
Resurgence of urban terror
The coup led by General Mejia Victores was followed by a full return to the massive selective terror in the capital which had been characteristic of the Arana and Lucas regimes, with the 'Department of Technical Investigations' (DIT), the National Police and the "Archivo" intelligence unit of the EMP responsible for carrying out most "extra-legal" operations. The modus operandi of the Mejia government involved interrogating victims at military bases, police stations, or government safe houses. Victims were abducted by individuals identifying openly as members of the DIT or the National Police. Abductions in rural areas were often carried out by plainclothes military units or by paramilitary units affiliated with the army. Once in custody, information about alleged connections with insurgents was "extracted through torture" and the victims were usually executed. The security forces used the information to conduct joint military and police raids on houses throughout the city, secretly capturing hundreds of individuals who were never seen again, or whose discarded bodies were later discovered showing signs of torture. Raids were often carried out by specialized units of the National Police.
In Mejia Victores's first full month in power, the number of documented monthly kidnappings jumped from 12 in August to 56 in September. The victims included a number of US Agency for International Development employees, officials from moderate and leftist political parties, and Catholic priests. In a report to the United Nations, Guatemala's Human Rights Commission reported 713 extrajudicial killings and 506 disappearances of Guatemalans in the period from January to September 1984. A secret United States Department of Defense report from March 1986 noted that from August 8, 1983 to December 31, 1985, there were a total of 2,883 recorded kidnappings (3.29 daily); and kidnappings averaged a total of 137 a month through 1984 (a total of approximately 1,644 cases). The report linked these violations to a systematic program of abduction and killing by the security forces under Mejía Víctores, noting, "while criminal activity accounts for a small percentage of the cases, and from time to time individuals ‘disappear’ to go elsewhere, the security forces and paramilitary groups are responsible for most kidnappings. Insurgent groups do not now normally use kidnapping as a political tactic."
Between 1984 and 1986, military intelligence (G-2) maintained an operations center for the counterinsurgency programs in southwest Guatemala at the southern airbase at Retalhuleu. There, the G-2 operated a clandestine interrogation center for suspected insurgents and collaborators. Captured suspects were reportedly detained in water-filled pits along the perimeter of the base, which were covered with cages. In order to avoid drowning, prisoners were forced to hold onto the cages over the pits. The bodies of prisoners tortured to death and live prisoners marked for disappearance were thrown out of IAI-201 Aravas by the Guatemalan Air Force over the Pacific Ocean ("death flights").
Cerezo Administration: new constitution, but continued violence
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 percent of the vote, and took office on 14 January 1986.
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." Elections, however, were deemed to be free and fair- a notable improvement on the military-dominated governments of the previous 30 years.
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 corpus and 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.
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. Serrano fled the country. An Intelligence Oversight Board report (secret at the time) states that the CIA helped in stopping this autocoup.
Pursuant to the 1985 constitution, the Guatemalan Congress on 5 June 1993 elected de León, the Human Rights Ombudsman, to complete Serrano's presidential term. He was not a member of any political party; lacking a political base but with strong popular support, he launched an ambitious anti-corruption campaign to "purify" Congress and the Supreme Court, demanding the resignations of all members of the two bodies. Shortly after he took office, his cousin, leader of the liberal party and two-time presidential candidate, was assassinated.
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 1995. 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.
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 socio-economic 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 percent 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 became 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. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1094 on 20 January 1997 deploying military observers to Guatemala to monitor the implementation of the peace agreements.
Human rights abuses
By the end of the war, it is estimated that 140,000-200,000 people had been killed or had disappeared. The overwhelming majority of those killed were victims of official-sanctioned terror by government forces.
The internal conflict is described in the report of the Archbishop's Office for Human Rights (ODHAG). ODHAG attributed almost 90.0 percent of the atrocities and over 400 massacres to the Guatemalan army (and paramilitary), and less than 5 percent 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 percent of the human rights violations committed during the war, the guerrillas for 3 percent. They peaked in 1982. 83 percent of the victims were Maya. Both sides used terror as a deliberate policy.
Throughout the conflict, both military and "civilian" governments utilized death squads as a counterinsurgency strategy. The use of "death squads" as a government tactic became particularly widespread after 1966. Throughout 1966 and the first three months of 1967, within the framework of what military commentators referred to as "el-contra terror," government forces killed an estimated 8,000 civilians accused of "subversive" activity. This marked a turning point in the history of the Guatemalan security apparatus, and brought about a new era in which mass murder of both real and suspected subversives by government "death squads" became a common occurrence in the country. A noted Guatemalan sociologist estimated the number of government killings between 1966 and 1974 at approximately 5,250 a year. Killings by both official and unofficial security forces would climax in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the presidencies of Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efrain Rios Montt, with over 18,000 documented killings by government forces in 1982 alone.
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. 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 disappeared or were executed."
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 practice 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.
For more than two decades Human Rights Watch has reported on Guatemala. A report from 1984 discussed "the murder of thousands by a military government that maintains its authority by terror. HRW have described extraordinarily cruel actions by the armed forces, mostly against unarmed civilians. 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."
Reparations and reconciliation
The CEH’s final report recommended several measures to promote reparation and reconciliation, including the creation of a National Reparations Program, searches for the disappeared, and exhumations of victims to bring closure to families. The report also called for an official public apology from both the president and the ex-leadership of the URNG, the creation of monuments, a holiday to commemorate victims, and the widespread distribution of the report to educate about the war and promote a culture of "mutual respect." The CEH report advocated social and agrarian reform, specifically declaring the need to reform the judicial system and address racism and social inequality.
Of these recommendations, only a few have been implemented by 2012. The National Reparations Program (Spanish: Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, or PNR) was created in 2003, mandated to focus on "material restitution, economic restitution, cultural restitution, dignifying victims and psycho-social reparations." According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, as of March 2012, 52,333 victims had been registered with the PNR and of those, more than 24,000 victims and/or families had received monetary reparations for crimes including rape, torture, execution and forced disappearance. Some other measures, such as naming streets after victims and creating a "Day of Dignity" to commemorate victims, have been instituted. PNR has primarily worked on economic reparation.
Following the release of the CEH report in 1999, President Álvaro Arzú apologized for the government’s role in the atrocities of the war. Ex-leaders of the URNG also apologized and asked forgiveness of the victims. In 2012, the current president Otto Pérez Molina denied that there had been genocide in Guatemala, arguing that it was impossible as a large portion of the army was indigenous.
The report was disseminated country-wide, but only parts of it were translated into Mayan languages. In addition, high rates of illiteracy have made it difficult for the general population to read the written report.
Exhumations of victims have been pursued throughout Guatemala, providing some truth through discovery of bodies. Several NGOs have been created to provide psychological support to families witnessing an exhumation, and forensic groups have helped with identification of remains. This has provided both closure for some families as they locate loved ones, and potential evidence for future government prosecution of crimes.
While Guatemala has achieved some forms of reparation, it faces significant instability and social inequality. Many of the estimated 1.5 million people displaced by the civil war have remained displaced. One million people migrated to the United States. In addition, in 2005, there were 5,338 murders in a total population of 12 million. The high levels of violence and instability in Guatemala are exemplified by a clash between protesters and police in October 2012, when police opened fire on a group of protesting teachers, killing seven. The country still has high rates of poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition.
Prosecutions and convictions
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 in prison 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. He was the first person to ever be convicted for carrying out acts of forced disappearance during the Civil War. He appeared before three judges to face his sentence. He received a 25-year prison sentence for each of his victims. It was hailed as a "landmark" sentence. Hilarion López, the father of one of the victims, said: "We weren't looking for vengeance but for the truth and justice". The families have called on Cusanero to tell them where their bodies are. Cusanero was photographed being carried away by police afterwards. By August, 2011, four former officers from the Guatemalan Special Forces (Kaibiles) were sentenced to 6,060 years in prison each for their involvement in the Dos Erres Massacre. In March, 2011, a fifth former soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, was also sentenced to 6,060 years (after having been extradited from the United States) for his role in Dos Erres.
Involvement of the U.S. and Allies
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Declassified CIA documents report that the U.S. Government organized, funded, and equipped the 1954 coup d’état deposing the elected Guatemalan presidential government of Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. Analysts Kate Doyle and Peter Kornbluh report 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 counter-insurgency campaign that left tens of thousands of massacred, maimed or missing [people]." History Prof. Stephen G. Rabe, reports that "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." The coup d’état installed lead usurper Colonel Castillo Armas as head of government, and then he and "the United States began to militarize Guatemala almost immediately, financing and reorganizing the police and military."
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."
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. 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."
In 1977, the Carter administration announced a suspension of military aid to Guatemala, citing the Guatemalan government as a "gross and consistent human rights violator" while noting that the situation was improving under the administration of president Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García. Despite this prohibition however, covert and overt US support for the Guatemalan army continued. In fiscal years 1978, 1979 and 1980 (the three years for which the Carter administration can be held responsible), the US delivered approximately $8.5 million in direct military assistance to Guatemala, mostly Foreign Military Sales credits, as well as export licensing for commercial arms sales worth $1.8 million, a rate which differs very little from that of the Nixon-Ford Administrations. The CIA also served as a channel for US military support to Guatemala during this period. In 1981, the Reagan administration approved a $2 million covert CIA program for Guatemala. In April 1982 (one month after Efrain Rios Montt took power) CIA operations expanded to $42.5 million.
According to Elias Barahona, former Press Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs in Guatemala from 1976 to 1980, the United States worked closely with the Lucas Garcia regime on the development of anti-guerilla strategies through the "Programme for the Elimination of Communism". This was also confirmed by several senior civil servants who worked under Lucas Garcia. Lieutenant Col. George Maynes - former U.S. Defense Attache and Chief of the U.S. MilGroup in Guatemala - worked with Guatemalan Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas Garcia in the development of "sweep" tactics which were implemented by the Lucas regime in the highlands in 1981.
In fiscal years 1981, 1982 and 1983, overt US military aid deliveries totaled $3.2 million, $4 million and $6.36 million respectively; a combined total of approximately $13.54 million (shipments included vital overhauls for previously acquired Bell UH-1 helicopters and A-37 Dragonfly counterinsurgency aircraft). These official figures on military aid during this period do not take into account the transshipment of aircraft spare parts and other military equipment between the US and Guatemalan militaries. Nor do these figures account for the US$20 million sale of two Lockheed-built C-130 transport planes or the US$25 million delivery of dual-use helicopters to the Guatemalan military between December 1980 and December 1982 (which shared interchangeable parts with previously acquired units), delivered primarily under contracts licensed by the US Department of Commerce. In addition, the United States authorized the provision of American-made equipment through third party sources, mainly Israel and Argentina. General Rodolfo Lobos Zamora, a leading military official during the conflict, mentioned the United States, Israel, and Argentina as countries that "spontaneously" offered military aid to the dictatorship.
In fiscal year 1979, the U.S. also provided Guatemala with $24 million in economic aid, including $5.3 million in PL 480 funds. The reaction of U.S. policy makers in multilateral lending institutions was at best ambiguous during the Carter administration. The U.S. only voted against 2 of 7 multilateral development bank loans for Guatemala between October 1979 and May 1980. In August 1980, it was reported that the U.S. had reversed its position entirely on multilateral development assistance to Guatemala. At that time, the U.S. refused to veto a $51 million loan from the IDB that was earmarked for government use in the turbulent Quiché area of northern Guatemala.
Although some of the training of the Guatemalan Army shifted to Israel and Argentina during the embargo, US training persisted on a covert level. In an investigative report, American newspaper columnist Jack Anderson revealed in August, 1981, at the height of the aid prohibition, that the United States was using Cuban exiles to train security forces in Guatemala; in this operation, Anderson wrote, the CIA had arranged for "secret training in the finer points of assassination."  The following year, it was reported that the Green Berets had been instructing Guatemalan Army officers for over two years in the finer points of warfare at Guatemala's main military academy. Jesse Garcia, a 32-year-old Green Beret captain functioning in Guatemala at the time, described his job as "not much different" than that of US advisors in El Salvador in an interview with the New York Times, during which he was on an armed patrol with forty Guatemalan officers in training. By 1983, it was also confirmed that Guatemalan military officers were once again being trained at the US School of the Americas in Panama.
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," to Rios Montt and his forces. 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.
During the civil war, the CIA collaborated with the Guatemalan D-2 (also known as the G-2), the primary directorate of military intelligence. The CIA's collaboration with D-2 was described by U.S. and Guatemalan operatives, and was confirmed by former Guatemalan heads of state. Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, a Guatemalan officer and CIA operative implicated in murders of guerrilla leader Efraín Bamaca Velásquez and Michael Devine, discussed in an interview how the CIA advised and helped to run D-2. He claimed that U.S. agents trained D-2 men. Alpirez described attending CIA sessions at D-2 bases on "contra-subversion" tactics and "how to manage factors of power" to "fortify democracy." The CIA also helped to provide "technical assistance" including communications equipment, computers and special firearms, as well as collaborative use of CIA-owned helicopters that were flown out of a piper hangar at La Aurora civilian airport and from a separate U.S. Air facility. The CIA also supplied the Guatemalan army and D-2 with "civil material assistance," which included medical supplies, Vietnam-era metal jeep parts, compasses and walkie talkies. CIA collaboration with D-2 ended in 1995.
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." On a trip to Guatemala in 1999 after the publication of the Truth Commission report, U.S. President Bill Clinton issued an apology declaring 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."
Military regimes in the South American Southern Cone also provided material support and training to the Guatemalan government. Many of the repressive tactics used by the Guatemalan security forces borrowed extensively from those employed during Operation Condor, especially those used by Argentina during the Dirty War. The military junta in Argentina was a prominent source of both material aid and inspiration to the Guatemalan military, especially during the final two years of the Lucas government. Argentina's involvement with the Guatemalan government fit within the broader context of Operation Charly, a CIA-backed covert operation aimed at providing intelligence training and counterinsurgency assistance to the governments in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as a supplement to U.S. operations in the region. In October 1981, the Guatemalan government and the Argentine military junta formalized secret accords which augmented Argentine participation in government counterinsurgency operations. As part of the agreement, two-hundred Guatemalan officers were dispatched to Buenos Aires to undergo advanced military intelligence training, which included instruction in interrogation. Argentine involvement had initially began in 1980, when the Videla regime dispatched army and naval officers to Guatemala to assist in counterinsurgency activities, under contract from President Romeo Lucas Garcia. In addition to working with the regular security forces, Argentine military advisors as well as a squadron of the notorious Batallón de Inteligencia 601 (Argentina's elite special forces battalion) worked directly with the Lucas government's paramilitary death squads, most notably the Ejercito Secreto Anticommunista (ESA). Argentine military advisors also participated in the Guatemalan army's rural counteroffensive in 1981 during "Operation Ash 81". Argentina's collaboration with the governments in Central America came to an end during the Falklands War in 1982.
Israel, like the United States, was an arms supplier to Guatemala during the civil war in the 1970s, with its first officially acknowledged arms shipments taking place in 1974 and continuing throughout the duration of the conflict. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) calculates that 39 percent of Guatemala's weapons imports between 1975 and 1979 were from Israel. By 1983, the New York Times reported that Israel was not only acting as a surrogate for the United States (in a similar fashion to its actions in Nicaragua), but also working to oppose the Soviet Union and grow the market for Israeli arms.
Prominent Israeli arms deliveries to Guatemala consisted of 15,000 Galil automatic rifles (delivered from 1974 to 1977; sources suggest that these were sold at a 300 percent mark-up), IMI Uzi submachine guns, up to 1,000 FN MAG general purpose machine guns, 17 IAI Arava STOL aircraft (delivered from 1976 to 1978), as well as 10 RBY MK 1 armored cars, 3 patrol boats, 5 field kitchens, and large quantities of ammunition. Israel was also the principal supplier of military hardware to Argentina from late-1978 onward after the United States suspended aid to the Argentine military junta. The government in Argentina also supplied quantities of Israeli-manufactured weapons and hardware to the Guatemalan military on several occasions.
In 1982, Efraín Ríos Montt told ABC News that his success was due to the fact that "our soldiers were trained by Israelis", and in 1981 the chief of staff of the Guatemalan army said that the "Israeli soldier is the model for our soldiers". There was not much outcry in Israel at the time about its involvement in Guatemala, though the support was not a secret. Despite public praise for Israel, Guatemalan officials were critical of Israel. General Hector Gramajo stated in an interview, "Maybe some Israeli's taught us intelligence but for reasons of business...The hawks (Israeli arms merchants) took advantage of us, selling us equipment at triple the price." In late 1981, with explicit authorization from the State Department and the Pentagon, ten American-made M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks were delivered to the Guatemalan Army by Belgium at a cost of US $34 million.
South African involvement
The military regimes in Guatemala maintained close relations with the government of apartheid South Africa. Sources reported as early as 1981 that South Africa was assisting the Lucas regime in the construction of an armaments factory in Guatemala. In November 1984, high ranking South African Generals L.B. Erasmus and Alexander Potgeiter headed an SADF delegation to Guatemala which toured Guatemalan military bases and installations and held talks with high-ranking officials of the Mejia Victores government to discuss continued military aid.
High-ranking military officials in the Guatemalan military, namely General Héctor Gramajo, maintained contact with South African intelligence officials, exchanging intelligence methods and techniques with South African intelligence and acquiring knowledge pertaining to how the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces fought in the Angolan Civil War and how Cuban intelligence operated. Guatemalan military officials intended to apply the experience of the South Africans in Angola to gain insight into the combat methods of the largely Cuban-trained insurgency.
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Media related to Guatemalan Civil War at Wikimedia Commons
- Guatemala After the War - Photographs by Jorge Uzon
- Key agreements in the Guatemalan peace process
- Guatemala Memory of Silence report by the Historical Clarification Commission (Truth Commission)
- "State Violence in Guatemala, 1960-1996: A Quantitative Reflection"
- Guatemala Documentation Project of the National Security Archives
- Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin