C.I.A. DEATH SQUADS
by Allan Nairn
The U.S. government has systematic links to Guatemalan Army death
squad operations that go far beyond the disclosures that have
recently shaken official Washington. The news that the C.I.A.
employed a Guatemalan colonel who reportedly ordered two murders
has been greeted with professions of shock and outrage. But in
fact the story goes much deeper, as U.S. officials well know.
North American C.l.A. operatives work inside a Guatemalan Army
unit that maintains a network of torture centers and has killed
thousands of Guatemalan civilians. The G-2, headquartered on the
fourth floor of the Guatemalan National Palace, has, since at
least the 1960s, been advised, trained,
armed and equipped by U.S. undercover agents. Working out of the
U.S. Embassy and living in safehouses and hotels, these agents
work through an elite group of Guatemalan officers who are secretly
paid by the C.I.A. and who have been implicated personally in
numerous political crimes and assassinations.
This secret G-2 / C.I.A. collaboration has been described by Guatemalan
and U.S. operatives and confirmed, in various aspects, by three
former Guatemalan heads of state. These accounts also mesh with
that given in a March 28 interview by Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez,
the C.I.A.- paid Guatemalan G-2 officer who has been implicated
in the murders of Guatemalan guerrilla leader Efrain Bamaca Velasquez
and a U.S. citizen, Michael DeVine.
One of the American agents who works with the G-2, a thin blond
man in his 40s who goes by the name of Randy Capister, has been
involved in similar operations with the army of neighboring El
Salvador. Another, a weapons expert known as Joe Jacarino, has
operated throughout the Caribbean, and has accompanied G-2 units
on missions into rural zones.
Jacarino's presence in the embassy was confirmed by David Wright,
a former embassy intelligence employee who called Jacarino a "military
liaison." Col. George Hooker, the U.S. Defense Intelligence
Agency chief in Guatemala from 1985 to 1989, says he also knew
Jacarino, though he says Jacarino was not with the D.l.A. When
asked whether Jacarino was with the C.I.A. he replied, "I'm
not at liberty to say."
Celerino Castillo, a former agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration
who dealt with the G-2 and the C.I.A. in Guatemala, says he worked
with Capister as well as with Jacarino. He showed photographs
of himself and Capister at embassy events and in the field. Guatemalan
sources say Capister meets regularly with Guatemalan Army chiefs.
He has been seen in meetings in Guatemala City as recently as
the spring of 1994.
When I reached Colonel Alpirez at the La Aurora base in Guatemala,
he denied all involvement in the deaths of Bamaca and DeVine and
said he was never paid by the C.I.A. But he discussed at length
how the agency advises and helps run the G-2. He praised the C.I.A.
for "professionalism" and close rapport with Guatemalan
officers. He said that agency operatives often come to Guatemala
on temporary duty, during which they train G-2 men and provide
"advice and technical assistance." He described attending
C.I.A. sessions at G-2 bases on "contra-subversion"
tactics and "how to manage the factors of power" to
"fortify democracy." He said the C.I.A. men were on
call to respond to G-2 questions, and that the G-2 often consulted
the agency on how to deal with "political problems."
Alpirez said he was not authorized to give specifics on the technical
assistance, nor would he name the North Americans the G-2 worked
with, though he said they were "very good friends."
Other officials, though, say that at least during the mid 1980s
G-2 officers were paid by Jack McCavitt, then C.I.A. station chief,
and that the "technical assistance" includes communications
gear, computers and special firearms, as well as collaborative
use of C.I.A.-owned helicopters that are flown out of the Piper
hangar at the La Aurora civilian air port and from a separate
U.S. air facility. Through what Amnesty International has called
"a government program of political murder." the Guatemalan
Army has, since 1978, killed more than 110,000 civilians. The
G-2 and a smaller, affiliated unit called the Archivo have long
been openly known in Guatemala as the brain of the terror state.
With a contingent of more than 2,000 agents and with sub-units
in the local army bases. the G-2-under orders of the army high
command-coordinates the torture. assassination and disappearance
"If the G-2 wants to kill you, they kill you," former
army Chief of staff Gen. Benedicto Lucas Garcia once said. "They
send one of their trucks with a hit squad and that's it."
Current and former G-2 agents describe a program of surveillance
backed by a web of torture centers and clandestine body dumps.
In 1986, then-army Chief of Staff Gen. Hector Gramajo Morales,
a U.S. protege, said that the G-2 maintains files on and watches
"anyone who is an opponent of the Guatemalan state in any
realm." A former G-2 agent says that the base he worked at
in Huehuetenango maintained its own crematorium and "processed"
abductees by chopping off limbs, singeing flesh and administering
At least three of the recent G-2 chiefs have been paid by the
C.I.A., according to U.S. and Guatemalan intelligence sources.
One of them, Gen. Edgar Godoy Gaitan, a former army Chief of Staff,
has been accused in court by the victim's family of being one
of the prime "intellectual authors" of the 1990 murder
of the noted Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang. Another,
Col. Otto Perez Molina, who now runs the Presidential General
Staff and oversees the Archivo, was in charge in 1994, when, according
to the Archbishop's human rights office, there was evidence of
General Staff involvement in the assassination of Judge Edgar
Ramiro Elias Ogaldez. The third, Gen. Francisco Ortega Menaldo,
who now works in Washington as general staff director at the Pentagon-backed
Inter-American Defense Board, was G-2 chief in the late 1980s
during a series of assassinations of students, peasants and human
rights activists. Reached at his home in Florida, Jack McCavitt
said he does not talk to journalists. When asked whether Ortega
Menaldo was on the C.I.A. payroll, he shouted "Enough!"
and slammed down the phone.
These crimes are merely examples of a vast, systemic pattern;
likewise, these men are only cogs in a large U.S. government apparatus.
Colonel Hooker, the former D.I.A. chief for Guatemala, says, "It
would be an embarrassing situation if you ever had a roll call
of everybody in the Guatemalan Army who ever collected a C.I.A.
paycheck." Hooker says the agency payroll is so large that
it encompasses most of the army's top decision-makers. When I
told him that his friend, Gen. Mario Enriquez Morales, the current
Defense Minister, had reacted to the Alpirez scandal by saying
publicly that it was "disloyal" and "shameful"
for officers to take C.I.A. money, Hooker burst out laughing and
exclaimed: "Good! Good answer, Mario! I'd hate to think how
many guys were on that payroll. It's a perfectly normal thing."
Other top commanders paid by the C.I.A. include Gen. Roberto Matta
Galvez, former army Chief of Staff, head of the Presidential General
Staff and commander of massacres in the El Quiche department;
and General Gramajo, Defense Minister during the armed forces'
abduction, rape and torture of Dianna Ortiz, an American nun.
Gramajo also managed the early 1980s highland massacres. Colonel
Hooker says he once brought Gramajo on a ten-day tour of the United
States to speak at U.S. military bases and confer with the U.S.
Army Chief of Staff.
Three recent Guatemalan heads of state confirm that the C.I.A.
works closely with the G-2. Last year, when I asked Gen. Oscar
Humberto Meiia Victores (military dictator from 1983 to 1986)
how the country's death squads had originated, he said they had
been started "in the 1960s by the C.I.A." Gen. Efram
Rios Montt (dictator from 1982 to 1983 and the current Congress
President), who ordered the main highland massacres (662 villages
destroyed, by the army's own count), said the C.I.A. did have
agents inside the G-2. When I asked Rios Montt-a firm believer
in the death penalty-if he thought he should be executed for his
role in the slaughter, he leapt to his feet and shouted "Yes!
Try me! Put me against the wall!" but he said he should be
tried only if Americans were tried too. Specifically, he cited
President Reagan, who, in the midst of the massacres, embraced
Rios Montt and said he was getting "a bum rap" on human
rights. Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo, civilian President from 1986 to
1991 (under whom the rate of killing actually increased), said
"the C.I.A. often contracts with our military and G-2 people,"
and that from what he knew they "very probably" had
people inside "who have participated with our G-2 in technical
assistance and advice. "
These C.I.A. operations are, of course, part of the larger U.S.
policy. The Bush and Clinton State Departments, for example, in
the midst of a much-touted "cutoff" of military aid
to Guatemala after 1990, authorized-according to classified State
Department records-more than 114 separate sales of U.S. pistols
The killing of defenseless people has been state policy in Guatemala
for thirty years. The question is not whether the U.S. government
has known-it is obviously aware of its own actions. It is why,
with overt and covert aid, it has helped commit the army's murders.
From the The Nation magazine, April 17, 1995
and Third World