Guerrilla Army of the Poor
|Guerrilla Army of the Poor|
Ejército Guerrillero de los PobresParticipant in Guatemalan Civil War
Logo of the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres
|Active||19 January 1972 – 15 February 1997|
|Area of operations||Guatemala|
|Allies||CUC, PGT, MR-13, ORPA, FAR|
|Opponent(s)||Armed Forces of Guatemala|
The Guerrilla Army Of The Poor (EGP – Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres) was a Guatemalan leftist guerrilla movement, which commanded a lot of support among the indigenous Mayan people during the Guatemalan Civil War.
In the aftermath of the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, a series of leftist insurgencies began in the Guatemalan countryside, against the United States supported military governments of the country. A prominent guerrilla group among these insurgents was the Rebel Armed Forces (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes, FAR). The FAR was largely crushed by a counter-insurgency campaign carried out by the Guatemalan government with the help of the U.S. in the late 1960s. Between 2800 and 8000 FAR supporters were killed, and hundreds of leftists in urban areas were kidnapped, assassinated, or disappeared. Those of the FAR's leadership that had survived this campaign came together to form the EGP in Mexico City in the 1970s. These included Ricardo Ramírez (whose nom de guerre was Rolando Morán) and Julio César Macías (known as César Montes), both Ladinos, and a number of indigenous Mayan leaders.
The new group had several ideological differences from the FAR. The FAR had based its ideology on the foco theory of Che Guevara. Several of the new EGP felt that it had not sufficiently taken into account the racial discrimination experienced by the indigenous Mayan people in Guatemala, and that this had limited their support. The EGP drew inspiration from the success of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army in resisting U.S. forces in the Vietnam War. They saw parallels between Guatemala and Vietnam, in that both countries were largely agrarian, were seeing a struggle between capitalism and communism, and were seeing heavy intervention from the U.S. to protect its economic interests. As a result, the EGP decided to include civilians in their projects more actively, and to make non-combatants a part of a revolutionary movement. The EGP saw their role as incorporating the issues civilians were concerned about, but also "instructing" them in their political beliefs.
The combatants of the EGP returned to Guatemala on 19 January 1972, and had added a number of recruits by 1975. According to EGP founder Mario Payeras, these included a number of Mayans, from several different tribes. It made its existence public in 1975, by playing a role in the execution of two Ladinos who were seen as the "region's most notorious oppressors". An organization the EGP used to mobilize supporters was the Committee for Peasant Unity (Spanish: Comité de Unidad Campesina, CUC). This group was launched on 15 April 1978, and was described by its founder Pablo Ceto as a convergence of the leftist insurgency, and the indigenous peoples' movements. Though it had close ties to the EGP, it was a distinct organization. At its height, the EGP had the support of 270,000 people across the regions of Quiché, Chimaltenango, Huehuetenango, and Verapaces, in the Guatemalan highlands. These supporters included students, academics, and poor Ladinos, as well as a large number of indigenous people.
In early 1980, a strike led by the CUC forced the Guatemalan government to raise minimum wages by 200 percent. In response, the government intensified its persecution of its critics, culminating in the Burning of the Spanish Embassy by police forces. A number of countries, including Spain, broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala following this incident, damaging the legitimacy of the government, and giving the EGP a chance to intensify its military activities. The EGP released a document proclaiming that the burning was an example of the racial persecution of the indigenous people, and that the EGP's struggle was related to this. This intensification of the EGP's activities led to the Guatemalan army establishing a presence in the area, and using kidnappings and torture to intimidate the population. Civilian patrols formed by the army perpetrated further human rights abuses, such that when Guerrillas were offered an amnesty by the government in 1983, the EGP asked its local supporters to accept it. The ability of the army to suppress the local support of the EGP has been attributed to military aid given to it by Israel and Argentina, as well as by the U.S. government after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.
Notes and references
- McAllister, Carlota (2010). "A Headlong Rush into the Future". In Grandin, Greg; Joseph, Gilbert. A Century of Revolution. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. pp. 276–309.