REAGAN ADMINISTRATION'S LINKS
TO GUATEMALA'S TERRORIST GOVERNMENT
by Allan Nairn
Covert Action Quarterly magazine, Summer 1989
Local businessmen and government officials involved with Guatemala's
notorious death squads say they have struck a deal with Ronald
Reagan which provides for restoration of U.S. weapon sales and
training facilities to the Guatemalan military and police, curtailment
of State Department criticism of the Guatemalan regime's massive
human rights violations, and the ultimate prospect of U.S. military
intervention to shore up that beleaguered Central American government.
Before his election, Reagan met personally with two leading spokesmen
of the Guatemalan right and also through a series of visits to
the country by aides and associates conveyed the details of what
one U.S. businessman calls his promised "180 degree turn"
in U.S. policy toward Guatemala. These visits include one at the
time of the Republican Convention to offer Reagan's "salute"
to Guatemalan president General Romero Lucas Garcia and inform
him that "things were going to be changing."
High-level Guatemalan officials say that Reagan's assurances may
already have led to an increase in the number of death squad assassinations
and a senior leader of Guatemala's moderate Christian Democratic
Party-already decimated by more than 34 assassinations of its
top leadership in the last year-fears for his life.
The Campaign Connections
An ominous bargain has been struck by means of an extensive network
of connections between the Reagan team and the Guatemalan extreme
right, which include:
Junkets to Guatemala by a "who's-who" of the American
New Right, sponsored by Guatemalan speculator and right-wing activist
Roberto Alejos Arzu, , who made his plantation available as a
training site for participants in the CIA's Bay of Pigs invasion
Those along on one trip in April 1980 included top executives
of Young Americans for Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, Moral
Majority, Young Republicans' National Federation, the American
Conservative Union, Conservative Digest, and such right-wing activists
as Howard Phillips of the
Conservative Caucus and John Laxalt, president of Reagan's campaign
organization Citizens for the Republic, and brother of the Reagan
campaign chairperson, Senator Paul Laxalt.
A Spring 1980 meeting in California between Reagan and Guatemalan
hotel magnate Eduardo Carrette-the man whom General Lucas [Garcia]
has asked to be his new ambassador to the U.S. and a leading figure
in Amigos del Pais, a pressure group comprised of businessmen
and landowners which Guatemala's recently-resigned Vice President
Dr. Francisco Villagran has compared to the John Birch Society.
The now extremely active Amigos paid a hefty $11,000 per month
in retainer fees to Deaver and Hannaford, a Los Angeles-Washington,
D.C. public relations firm headed by Reagan confidante Michael
Deaver, which handled advertising for the Republican presidential
campaign. Deaver is now White House Deputy Chief of Staff.
Pressure on Congress by Reagan associates to "lend a sympathetic
ear" to the Amigos current lobbying campaign for the restoration
of military aid and training for the Guatemalan military.
Several other Reagan advisors have visited Guatemala in the past
year, including Roger Fontaine, National Security Council assistant
for Latin American affairs and retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham,
of his defense advisory committee, who also visited El Salvador
for President Reagan.
Fontaine, who is an established hard-liner in regional matters,
is the former director of Latin American Studies at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, perhaps the nation's
most conservative academic-activists center for Latin American
affairs. He bolstered Guatemalan hopes in an interview published
in the Miami Herald where he was quoted as saying, "It's
pretty clear that Guatemalans will be given what aid they need
in order to defend themselves against an armed minority which
is aided and abetted by Cubans."
The Death squads
Guatemala's death squads with such names as "Secret Anti-Communist
Army" and "Eye for an Eye" specialize in "disappearances"
of their political opponents, routine torture, and high-noon machine-gun
executions in downtown Guatemala City as well as the countries'
Sources close to the Lucas Garcia regime report that the death
squads are staffed and directed by the Guatemalan Army and Police
under the command of President Lucas, Interior Minister Donald
Alvarez Ruiz, and a group of top-ranking generals, with the assistance
of Lucas's right-hand man, Colonel Hector Montalban, and national
Chief of Police, Colonel German Chupina. Private businessmen provide
the payrolls for the squads, and often assist in "compiling"
the lists of troublesome labor, professional and political leaders
as well as other suggested victims.
Cotton grower Raul Garcia Granados-a leader of the Guatemalan
right who is the brother of Lucas's Chief of Staff and co-owner
with Lucas of an estate in the northern Franja Transversal region-traces
the lineage of the current death squads back four administrations
to the late 1960s.
"Of course when they were organized, they were organized
under the patronage and the approval of the government and the
army," he said in a transcribed interview. "They have
lists of people that are suspected to be communists of whatever
kind, and they kill them. It's a war, you see, a war between the
communists and the anti-communists. They [the death squads] have
the sympathy of most of the Guatemalan people."
Elias Barahona, former press secretary to Interior Minister Alvarez
Ruiz, who controls the national police, fled the country, declared
he had become a member of the EGP (Ejercito Guerrillero del Pueblo)
an anti-government guerrilla group, and in a Panama City press
conference issued a 15 page statement detailing how Lucas and
the generals run the death squad from the fourth floor of the
National Palace Annex. He listed the address of houses used by
the government for detention and torture of its kidnap victims.
Despite such mounting evidence, and the near-universal recognition
that Guatemala is one of the worst human rights violators in the
entire world; both Arano Osorlo, known as "the butcher of
Zacape," and former Guatemalan vice-president Mario Sandoval
Alarcon, generally considered high commander of the death squads,
were invited to the Reagan inauguration.
Guatemala and the Carter Administration
To the Lucas regime and the businessmen who support it, President
Carter's human rights policy was an anathema. Lucas called Carter
"Jimmy Castro." Feeling increasingly isolated and betrayed
by Carter State Department policy in Guatemala, officials there
chose to ignore Washington's urging that human rights violations
Businessman Roberto Alejos complained: "Most of the elements
in the State Department are probably pro-communist-they're using
human rights as an argument to promote the socialization of these
areas. We've gotten to the point now where we fear the State Department
more than we fear communist infiltration. Either Mr. Carter is
a totally incapable president or he is definitely a pro-communist
Milton Molina is a wealthy plantation owner who is reputed within
Guatemala to have funded and ordered death squad attacks on dozens
of peasants and workers. When asked about the squads in a transcribed
interview, Molina replied, "Well, we have to do something,
don't you think so?" Molina says he and his friends back
Reagan "one hundred percent."
The death squads' defenders base their faith in Reagan on direct
conversations with him and his top military and foreign policy
advisors. According to a Reagan fundraiser, Reagan told ambassador-to-be
Carrette, "Hang in 'til we get there. We'll get in and then
we'll give you help. Don't give up. Stay there and fight. I'll
help you as soon as I get in."
The Guatemalan Lobby
The Reagan camp's courtship of the Guatemalan right began in earnest
with the December 1979 visit to Guatemala of a delegation from
the American Security Council, a private ultra-hawk U.S. military
lobby. One of the consultants on Guatemalan affairs for the ASC
film "Attack on the Americas" was John C. Trotter, the
notorious manager of Guatemala City's Coca-Cola bottling plant
franchise. Trotter has been implicated in the death squad murders
of a number of workers and union leaders at the bottling plant
and was removed from management by Coca-Cola headquarters after
an international union and church-led boycott of Coke protesting
the situation at the plant in Guatemala.
Trotter is also a director of the Guatemala Freedom Foundation,
a pro-Lucas international lobby group founded by Roberto Alejos,
which is more extreme than the Amigos del Pais organization. Alejos
hosted the ASC delegation and helped set up an itinerary which
included visits with President Lucas and the Guatemalan military
high command, helicopter tours to inspect rural counter-insurgency
activities, and a cocktail party with Guatemalan businessmen at
Alejos's estate. The delegation was headed by two Reagan associates-
retired General John K. Singlaub who has served as ASC's Director
of Education, and retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, the former Defense
Intelligence Agency head, who maintains an office at ASC's Washington,
As an advisor to Reagan, Graham retains his position as co-chairperson
for the Coalition for Peace Through Strength, a Washington lobby
composed of retired military personnel, pushing for a larger defense
budget, The Missouri branch of the Coalition met with Guatemalan
and Salvadoran business and political leaders in St. Louis last
May. Among the Guatemalan visitors were Manuel Ayau and Roberto
Alejos. Ayau is a member of his nation's most ultra-conservative
party, the National Liberation Movement, which is allegedly directly
linked to paramilitary death squads freely operating in the country.
He is considered to be the ideologue of the more extremist sector
of the business community, and is also on the board of GFF.
Alejos and Ayau are now well-known figures in Washington. With
extensive help from their PR people, they have met with Congressional
staff and State Department officials in the hopes of enlisting
support for their political position.
Their publicity is handled primarily by MacKenzie, McCheyne, Inc.
of Washington, D.C. In the past, this firm received hundreds of
thousands of dollars from the Somoza government of Nicaragua.
It also promotes the El Salvador Freedom Foundation, which purports
to be to the right of the Salvadoran junta, and it openly arranged
the April 1980 Washington press conference given by Roberto D'Aubuisson.
In the past two years, MacKenzie, McCheyne has received over $250,000
from the GFF.
The Guatemalan emissaries are known to have been heartened to
hear Gen. Graham's statement made during a trip to Argentina last
year, that "Carter's human rights policy has had disastrous
effects on America's relations with Latin America. . . and if
Reagan is elected, the U.S. would abandon the policy of throwing
old friends to the wolves."
Singlaub, the former commander of U.S. forces in South Korea dismissed
by President Carter for insubordination, has good contacts with
the informal network of radical right-wing mercenaries who aid
dictatorships around the globe.
In a tape-recorded interview last August, Singlaub said that he
was "terribly impressed" at how the Lucas regime was
"desperately trying to promote human rights" and lamented
the fact that "as the [Guatemalan] government loses support
from the United States, it gives the impression to the people
that there's something wrong with their government."
As for Graham, he acknowledged during a Washington telephone interview
last year that he told President Lucas Garcia that on his return
to the United States, he would urge the Reagan campaign team to
provide for the resumption of military training and aid to Guatemala
as soon as a victorious Reagan would be installed in office.
The Reagan aides' advice and supportive comments were the talk
of official Guatemala for days after their visit. Within weeks,
death squad assassinations increased dramatically and there was
talk in government circles of even harsher measures.
The parade of visiting advisors continued. Roger Fontaine made
at least two trips to Guatemala. Fontaine is on a first name basis
with right-wing figures and keeps in constant touch with them
Through the Amigos del Pais and Alejos's and Trotter's Guatemala
Freedom Foundation, a number of Guatemalans also came to the U.S.
to meet Reagan and his staff; Both Amigos del Pais director Maegli,
and Manuel Ayau, chief ideologue and theorist of the Guatemalan
right, have met with Richard Allen, head of the National Security
Council, and early last year, Alejos met with Reagan in California.
The Deal With Reagan
As described by Guatemalan and U.S. businessmen and Guatemalan
government officials, the bargain with the Reagan forces has four
key elements. First, there is an agreement, as Maegli puts it,
"to take our Army off the blacklist"- to restore weapons
and ammunition sales, supply badly needed spare parts for the
U.S.-built helicopters, and make available fighter and cargo planes
to the Guatemalan air force as well as crowd control and counterinsurgency
gear to the army and police.
Second, a commitment has been made to resume Pentagon training
of the army and police. particularly in surveillance, intelligence
and interrogation techniques. According to Robert Merrick, an
American-born plantation owner who was in close touch with Reagan
advisors, Fontaine promised him and a group of Guatemalan businessmen
that Reagan "would do everything he could within the law
to help train the Guatemalan police."
Third and perhaps most importantly, the Reagan supporters have
agreed to cut back U.S. criticism of the death squads which the
Guatemalan regime feels has so tarnished its international political
and financial standing.
Finally, although the signals have been less explicit, there is
also the expectation in government and business councils that
President Reagan would intervene militarily in the event that
a popular uprising threatened the Lucas government.
In anticipation of such support, businessmen who back the death
squads gave their all for the Reagan campaign. In addition to
the more than $120,000 which Amigos del Pais paid to the Deaver
and Hannaford firm, other public relations efforts by right wing
Guatemalan groups attempted to sway U.S. opinion concerning Central
America, in Reagan's favor.
According to Merrick and others, American businessmen based in
Guatemala gave heavily to the Reagan campaign. Yet a check of
the names of more than 200 such individuals-including several
who said specifically that they had contributed-against the list
of Reagan donors disclosed to the Federal Election Commission,
showed no public trace of any such contributions. (The sole exception
was John Trotter, who through his wife, had given $750 to the
Reagan primary campaign.) One businessman who was solicited by
the Reagan campaign said explicit instructions were given repeatedly:
"Do not give to Mr. Reagan's campaign directly." Monies
went instead to an undisclosed committee in California.
Last spring-when the Amigos del Pais were making the rounds of
Congress asking for restoration of Guatemalan military training
appropriation-Nancy Reynolds, Nancy Reagan's former press secretary
and the current Vice President for public relations of the Bendix
Corporation, called the office of Congressman Don Pease (Dem.-Ohio)
and asked that he "lend a sympathetic ear" to Amigos
del Pais members' plea for aid. "It's the first time we ever
got a phone call like that," said the congressman's aide."
It was Nancy Reynolds who recommended Deaver and Hannaford to
Amigos del Pais.