US Aided and Abetted Genocide
Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America,
by George Friemoth, MITF Board
In an explosive report released on February 25 by the United
Nations' Historical Clarification Commission (CEH), the US government
and several American corporations were accused of complicity in
the genocide of nearly 200,000 Mayan people during Guatemala's
bloody 36-year civil war.
The final 3,600-page CEH report clearly places the blame for
most of the 200,000 deaths on the "racist" policy of
the Guatemalan government and holds the country's military and
paramilitary forces responsible for the actual killings, tortures
and disappearances. However, it accuses the US of directly and
indirectly supporting a "fratricidal confrontation"
by providing sustained training, arms and financial aid. The US
role peaked in the 1981-1983 period, but did not end until the
peace accords were signed in 1996.
The report is based on the testimony of 9,200 people from
all sides of the conflict. The three commission members had an
international staff of 272 workers, who spent 18 months assembling
the report and who made extensive use of declassified US documents.
The CEH investigated 42,000 human rights violations, 29,000 of
which resulted in deaths or disappearances. The most significant
* The Guatemalan army and its paramilitary forces (the infamous
"Civil Patrols") were responsible for 93% of the crimes.
Leftist guerrillas (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity -
URNG) were blamed for three percent of the crimes; four percent
were unresolved. * There were 626 massacres that were attributed
to the military and its allies and described as a "strategically
planned genocide against the Mayan people." The URNG was
blamed for another 32 massacres.
* The scorched earth operations, particularly in the early
1980's, resulted in entire villages being wiped out - men, women
and children. "Special brutality [was] directed against Mayan
women, who were tortured, raped and murdered." Large numbers
of girls and boys were victims of extremely violent killings.
* The Guatemalan government used a relatively small Marxist
insurgency (the URNG) as an excuse for the "physical annihilation"
of all of its political opponents, the vast majority of them unarmed
civilians. The executions and forced disappearances of Mayan leaders
"were not only an attempt to destroy the social base of the
guerrillas," the report said, "but above all, to destroy
the cultural values that insured cohesion and collective action
in Mayan communities."
The US Role
Commission chairman Christian Tomuschat, a respected German
lawyer and human rights expert, stated that the US was responsible
for much of the bloodshed. "The United States government
and US private companies exercised pressure to maintain the country's
archaic and unjust socioeconomic structure." He noted that
the CIA and other US agencies "lent direct and indirect support
to some illegal state operations." The support consisted
of advising, training, arming and financing the overall operation.
The commission listed the American training of the Guatemalan
officer corps in counter-insurgency techniques, including torture,
as a key factor "which had a significant bearing on human
rights violations during the armed confrontation." The US
Army School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, was
singled out for its role.
Specifically named was Guatemalan Military Intelligence (Ml)
as the primary organizer of illegal detentions, torture, forced
disappearances and executions. The report noted that most Ml officers
were graduates of the SOA and maintained close and frequent contact
with their US counterparts. Attempting to absolve himself, Mario
Merida, former chief of Ml and one-time Minister of Interior,
said "It was a war between the United States and the USSR.
We should never have gotten involved." Guatemalan President
Arzu and others argue that Guatemalans were merely victims of
a civil war and that the country was used by the US as a surrogate
Cold War battleground.
United Fruit and Coca Cola In 1954, the United Fruit Company
(now known as Chiquita Banana) pressured the US government to
stage a ClA-directed coup that overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz.
This action put an end to the first democratically elected president
in Guatemalan history and set in motion the civil war that followed.
In the 1970's and 1980's, a US-owned bottling company licensed
by Coca-Cola waged a war against Guatemalan trade unions, in which
scores of people were killed by the military. The CEH report cited
other cases of transnational intervention and human rights violations.
The Guatemalan and US governments should acknowledge once
and for all their respective roles in the carnage. President Clinton
took the first steps by authorizing the release of some classified
documents, contributing to the funds for the commission's work
and, in a recent trip to Guatemala, apologizing for the US role
in the war. He said he would do everything he could, given funding
limitations, to help in rebuilding the country. The URNG ex-guerrillas
offered an official apology to the Guatemalan people. Last December,
President Arzu apologized for the government's role in the war
and called for a national forgiveness campaign.
The CEH recommended that all responsible companies recognize
the facts and ask for pardon from society as a whole and from
victims and their families in particular and that a presidential
commission be created to investigate those responsible for torture,
disappearances and genocide - crimes not exempted from the Peace
aid caravans to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and
Cuba, in support of communities and non-governmental organizations
that are working for peace and justice with dignity. Enroute,
the caravans demonstrate the "People's Foreign Policy,"
which aims to support self-determination and sustainable development.
The policy serves as an example to our own government, which historically
has supported policies that discourage or actively suppress grassroots
movements for progressive social change in Latin America.
In January 1996, Rev. Walker was arrested by US authorities
because he dared to take computers to hospitals in Cuba. When
the computers were seized, he and four others engaged in a "Fast
for Life." The fast lasted 94 days and resulted in the release
of the computers, which were later delivered to Cuba. Rev. Walker
says his ministry is inspired by scripture. "The Bible says
feed the hungry and clothe the poor. It doesn't say starve the
At the age of 68, Rev. Walker is truly a "Walkin' the
Talk" activist. This year he has announced two new projects:
a Prison for Justice Caravan in the US and the first Pastors for
Peace caravan to Haiti in September/October of this year.
Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America · 20
Sunnyside Ave., Suite 303-A, Mill Valley, CA 94941 · (415)
924-3227 E-mail: email@example.com · April 1999
Human Rights, Justice, Reform