U.S. POLICY IN GUATEMALA, 1966-1996
By Kate Doyle and Carlos Osorio
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 11
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[U.S. Counter-Terror Assistance to Guatemalan Security Forces]
U.S. Public Safety Advisor John Longan, on temporary loan from his post in Venezuela, assists the Guatemalan government in establishing an urban counter-terrorist task force in the wake of a rash of kidnappings for ransom by insurgent organizations. During meetings with senior military and police officials, Longan advises how to establish overt and covert operations in Guatemala, to include designing "frozen area plans" for police raids, setting up new road blocks within the capital, and creating a "safe house" in the Presidential Palace to centralize information gathered on the kidnappings. Longan also addresses the role of U.S. military advisors, the sale of U.S. supplies and equipment to the Guatemalan armed forces and Col. Peralta's national address offering cash rewards for top communist leaders -- dead or alive. [Note: CAS is an acronym for "Covert Action Section," the operational arm of the CIA Station.]
The CIA Station in Guatemala City reports the secret execution of several Guatemalan "communists and terrorists" by Guatemalan authorities on the night of March 6, 1966. The victims -- the leader of the Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajadores (PGT), Victor Manuel Gutiérrez, among them -- are several of the more than two dozen PGT members and associates abducted, tortured and killed by Guatemalan security forces in March of 1966. The incident became famous as the first case of forced mass "disappearance" in Guatemala's history.
Request for Special Training
U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Guatemala Viron Vaky forwards to Washington the text of a cable the embassy received from the SouthCom Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Porter. Porter's cable describes a request made to him by the Guatemalan Vice Defense Minister, Col. Francisco Sosa Avila, for U.S. assistance in the covert training of special kidnapping squads that would target leftists. Although Porter declines, he does not hesitate to recommend that the United States "fully support current police improvement programs and initiate military psychological warfare training and additional counterinsurgency operations training." Vaky is troubled.
Guatemala: A Counter-Insurgency Running Wild?
The Bureau of Intelligence and Research questions the current Guatemalan government's ability to control military and police forces in light of "accumulating evidence that the counter-insurgency machine is out of control." The document describes some of the methods utilized in Guatemala's "successful" campaign, including the formation of clandestine counter-terrorist units to carry out abductions, bombings, torture, and summary executions "of real and alleged communists."
Guatemala and Counter-terror
Viron Vaky, back in Washington with the State Department's Policy Planning Council, writes an extraordinary indictment of U.S. policy in Guatemala in a memorandum to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Covey Oliver. Vaky argues that the Guatemalan government's use of counter-terror is indiscriminate and brutal, and has impeded modernization and institution building within the country. Furthermore, he writes, the United States has condoned such tactics. "This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is alright. Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are Communists." Vaky urges a new policy in Guatemala that rejects "counter-terror" as an accepted tactic and represents a "clear ethical stand" on the part of the United States.
Guatemalan Antiterrorist Campaign
In the midst of what becomes a year-long state of siege imposed by President Carlos Arana Osorio, Guatemalan security forces "quietly eliminated" hundreds of "terrorists and bandits," mainly in the countryside. In Guatemala City, police apprehend or kill about 30 suspected subversives, including a senior Communist Party member. The army has also closed all roads leading from the capital and is conducting house-to-house searches for suspects.
Fascell Sub-Committee Hearings on Guatemala Public Safety Program
The U.S. embassy in Guatemala cables Washington in anticipation of a closed hearing to be held by the House Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs. Defending the Public Safety Program in Guatemala, the embassy states: 1) The U.S. government is aware of the tactics being used by the government of Guatemala (GOG) to combat urban and rural terrorism. The GOG for the most part uses orthodox police methods to rid Guatemala of the communist-inspired terrorism, but on occasion has engaged in illegal detention and elimination of individuals. President Arana is troubled by these operations. 2) The advent of a communist government considerably more repressive than the present one would have a serious and adverse effect on U.S. security. 3) The U.S. Public Safety Program is not involved in assistance to or cooperation with terrorist operations of any kind. 4) Contrary to the misleading information put forth by members of the U.S. and international press the Public Safety Program is not associated by Guatemalans with terrorist tactics. The cable concludes by insisting that U.S. aid has been a "positive force in helping the Guatemalan Police to meet their challenges. . ."
Internal Security: "Death Squad" Strikes
Cable alerts Washington to the resurgence of "death squad" activity. The clandestine organization, Escuadron de la Muerte, has resumed its activities with the shooting of six alleged criminals. Earlier executions were carried out in the name of the "Avenging Vulture" (Buitre Justiciero), which government sources told the embassy was a "smoke-screen" for police extra-legal activities. The current killings have all the signs of another police operation.
Biographic Data on LTC Elias Osmundo RAMIREZ Cervantes, Guatemalan
Describes Ramírez's responsibility as Arana Osorio's chief of the Security Section of the Presidential Staff (Archivos) for raids on insurgent groups, interrogation and surveillance. Archivos also monitored all foreign travel into and out of Guatemala. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Intelligence School in Fort Holabird, Maryland, and worked with the CIA in training Cubans for the Bay of Pigs invasion. In earlier documents, Col. Ramírez, is described as pro-U.S. and anti-communist. In January 1975, he was authorized to travel to the United States to acquire a powerful IBM computer for security work.
Background for Human Rights Speeches: Guatemalan Perceptions of Our
There are signs that Guatemalan hostility toward U.S. human rights policies may be changing. The new administration of President Romeo Lucas García has come out in public in favor of human rights. Current indications are that Lucas wants to have good relations with the United States and will not oppose human rights conditions tied to the resumption of U.S. assistance.
Guatemalan/US Military Relations
Former President Kjell Laugerud comments on the growing distrust between Guatemalan and U.S. military officers. He reminisces about happier days, during the early and mid-1970s, when U.S.-Guatemalan military relations were close and camaraderie between the officers was strong. Laugerud believes that recent U.S. failure to provide military equipment to Guatemala may be some of the reasons for the cooling of relations.
[Guatemalan Soldiers Kill Civilians in Cocob]
CIA account of a massacre. Guatemalan army says that units of the rebel Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP) attacked their troops on April 15 from the village of Cocob, near Nebaj (in the Ixil). One officer and four soldiers were killed. Two days later, a reinforced company of airborne troops entered Cocob to investigate and found 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." Many civilians died.
Guatemala: What Next?
An assessment from the State Department's Human Rights Bureau of President Lucas García's repressive policies and the response the United States should take. The memo asserts that Lucas is convinced that continued repression is the only successful way to combat the guerrilla movement, and that he will probably continue this campaign with or without U.S. security assistance. "If Lucas is right and the GOG can successfully ‘go it alone' in its policy of repression, there is no need for the U.S. to provide the GOG with redundant political and military support." The memo counsels State to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
[Counterinsurgency Operations in El Quiché]
The massacres continue. This cable from the CIA Station documents a Guatemalan army "sweep" operation through the Ixil Triangle in El Quiché. The aim of the operation is to destroy all towns and villages suspected of supporting the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP). Those who collaborate with the military are allowed shelter and food in refugee camps. If there is resistance from anyone in a town, the entire town is considered hostile and destroyed; if a village is abandoned before the military arrive, it is also considered hostile and is destroyed. According to the cable, the army has yet to encounter any major guerrilla force in the area and its successes are limited to the destruction of entire villages and the killing of Indians suspected of collaborating or sympathizing with the rebels. "The well-documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike."
Embassy Attempt to Verify Alleged Massacres in Huehuetenango
Three officers from the U.S. embassy visit the department of Huehuetenango to investigate accusations that the villages of Finca San Francisco and Petenac were the sites of large scale massacres carried out by the military. Bad weather does not permit the team to reach the villages, but the cable notes the helpful and open attitude of the Guatemalan army personnel assisting in the effort and concludes that "army is completely up front about allowing us to check alleged massacre sites and to speak to whomever we wish."
[Note: The San Francisco massacre of July 18, 1982, was one of the "illustrative human rights cases" examined by the Historical Clarification Commission.]
Analysis of Human Rights Reports on Guatemala by Amnesty International,
WOLA/NISGUA, and Guatemala Human Rights Commission
After analyzing human rights reporting on Guatemala from Amnesty International, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Network in Solidarity with Guatemala and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, the U.S. Embassy concludes that "a concerted disinformation campaign" is being waged against the Guatemalan government in the U.S. "by groups supporting the communist insurgency in Guatemala." It accuses the groups of assigning responsibility for atrocities to the army without sufficient evidence, abuses which may have never occurred or may have been propagated by guerrillas. While the cable concedes that the army has committed violations, it concludes that many of the accusations by the human rights organizations are unfounded and that their sources are highly questionable, since they come from "well-known communist front groups." It questions the fact that these reports did not use the Guatemalan government as a source and that they failed to charge guerrilla groups with human rights violations.
Guatemala: Reports of Atrocities Mark Army Gains
Description of the scorched earth campaigns. The "rifles and beans" policy initiated in July by President Efraín Ríos Montt is characterized by alternating the use of carrots -- through amnesty for the guerrillas -- and sticks – through the state of siege, a heavy military offensive and the organization of Indians into Civil Defense Forces. The government has heightened its control over rural areas through the construction of strategic hamlets for local communities. There are widespread allegations of massacres, rape and mayhem by the troops. "The Embassy does not as yet believe that there is sufficient evidence to link government troops to any of the reported massacres."
[Ríos Montt Gives Carte Blanche to Archivos to Deal with Insurgency]
There has been a recent steady increase of "suspect right-wing violence," with kidnappings -- particularly of students and educators -- increasing in number and bodies again appearing in ditches and gullies. Sources report that in October 1982, President Ríos Montt informed officers of the "Archivos" (presidential intelligence service) that they were free to "apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit." Sources also say that Archivos is participating in military operations against towns in the Quiché. Although the cable claims there is no "specific information available" linking the Archivos to extra-legal activities, Ambassador Frederic Chapin adds a comment at the end of the document, saying that he is firmly convinced that the recent upsurge in violence is ordered and directed by the Guatemalan government.
Ambassador's Comments on the Information Concerning the Deaths of
Three AID Project Related Persons
Ambassador Chapin is convinced that three Guatemalan AID workers were killed by Presidential intelligence unit "Archivos" as reprisal for recent U.S. pressure over human rights in Guatemala.
[President Cerezo Revamps the "Archivos"]
The "Archivos" under President Vinicio Cerezo will gather and analyze political intelligence but will no longer carry out counterinsurgency operations. In the past, the intelligence unit was alleged to be a principal violator of human rights.
[Article is Wrong to Report that Nothing has Changed Under Cerezo
Responding to an article appearing in The New Republic, the State Department protests characterizations of the new Cerezo government as repressive and summarizes recent Guatemalan history: Lucas García carried out most of the atrocities. Ríos Montt and Mejía Víctores established development projects where Indians were well treated in exchange for cooperation with army. Cerezo will not dig up past human rights violations, but will punish future violations. The old Presidential intelligence unit (Archivos) has been reshaped and the files transferred to the Directorate of Intelligence (D-2). "We have no information that clandestine military holding centers exist today or that the army is sponsoring paramilitary death squads. . . . We have no [excised] evidence that D-2 is currently involved in kidnappings and assassinations."
[Excised] Possible Guatemalan Government Involvement in Recent Capital
The Army Directorate of Intelligence D-2 is involved in the last wave of bombings in Guatemala City and may have used recent disturbances as a cover to intimidate opposition organizations. Source reports that D-2 Special Operations Section was responsible for grenade attacks against the two grassroots organizations -- Peace Brigades International (PBI) and Mutual Support Group (GAM). Other bombings are reportedly the work of the Christian Democrats (Cerezo's party).
[The D-2 Conducts Human Rights Investigations]
A source tells the CIA Station that the D-2 is conducting human rights investigations which prove that many of reported violations are instances of common crime and that cases of the "disappeared" are in reality citizens who have illegally immigrated to the United States. The human rights arena has become a propaganda war where government and leftists exaggerate figures. The cable observes that, "regarding the role of the military in human rights violations, the possibility cannot be ruled out, but there are no signs of officials military involvement in . . . cases actively under investigation." An embassy comment disagrees, and reports that D-2 personnel and officers in the rural military commands are involved in disappearances and extra-judicial killings.
The Vice-President's Meeting with Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo
The drafters of this briefing paper from Inter-American Affairs are critical of the Guatemalan government's failure to investigate latest surge of violence, assassinations, and an attack on an American citizen. The United States has repeatedly pressed Cerezo on human rights, judicial reform, drug trafficking and other issues, but the government "feels it can continue to be unresponsive to our interests."
Stop Delivery of Military Assistance to Guatemala
In the wake of the murder of American citizen Michael DeVine, the Bush administration decides to freeze the delivery of security assistance to Guatemala. The cable states that the Cerezo government intends to "string the investigation out, as it has on all past cases, until it leaves office in three weeks. This is unacceptable." The United States will wait to deal with a new government in the hope that progress can then be made in the DeVine case and other outstanding human rights cases.
Note: In 1995, U.S. press reports revealed that although overt U.S. military aid was indeed halted in December 1990, millions of dollars of secret CIA funds continued to flow to the Guatemalan armed forces during the ensuing years. Those funds were finally cut off after they became public.
Selective Violence Paralyzes the Left
Ambassador Thomas Stroock describes the strategy, tactics and modus operandi behind a recent campaign of terror waged by the Archivos, D-2 and other military and police death squads. The wave of selective violence -- which over the year killed anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang and political activist Dinora Pérez, among others -- is being used by security forces to spread fear among the targeted organizations and individuals. "It is not clear the President [Serrano Elías] openly opposes actions against the left, particularly while there is a war on. He seems ambiguous on the topic, an ambiguity that fuels the violence. . . We conclude, given the ideological bent of the president and most of those closest to him, that the current GOG may look with benign [regard] upon efforts physically to eliminate the left as a remotely potential rival to power."
GOG Meets Most FMF Human Rights Benchmarks: Time for "Small Steps"
in Response to Big Ones
Although the Guatemalan government has not yet satisfied all of the conditions posed by the United States to qualify for the reinstatement of military aid, Ambassador Stroock reports that it has made major progress meeting specific and general human rights goals. The ambassador proposes rewarding this progress with the approval of commercial licenses for export of "non-lethal goods" to the Guatemalan military.
During a recent trip to Guatemala, Secretary of Defense --- spoke to President Serrano and the Minister of Defense about human rights in Guatemala and received their commitment in stamping out abuses. The Guatemalan military's "new attitude about human rights" should be encouraged. One way to do so is to continue the International Military and Education Training (IMET) program, "the most effective instrument the United States has to influence a basic change in the attitude of the Guatemalan military."
Concerns Over the Military
The Clinton administration's newly-confirmed ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee, expresses concern that U.S. human rights policies -- including pressure exerted in the DeVine case and conditions imposed on continued IMET -- are alienating the Guatemalan military. McAfee fears that anger over U.S. policy may work to the advantage of military hard-liners and undermine the moderate, Minister of Defense René Enríquez and, by extension, President de León Carpio. "We must try and calibrate our actions to build and retain the confidence of the army."
Suspected Presence of Clandestine Cemeteries on a Military Installation
Reviews new information about the Guatemalan military's use of the southern air base in Retalhuleu during the mid-1980s. According to the document, the army's intelligence directorate (D-2) coordinated the counterinsurgency campaign in southwest Guatemala from this base, using it both as an operations post and an interrogation center. Small buildings used as interrogation rooms and pits filled with water used to hold captured suspects once existed on the base; they have since been destroyed or filled in with concrete. The document describes the army's technique of disposing bodies (and, at times, live prisoners) by flying them over the ocean and pushing them out of a plane. "In this way, the D-2 has been able to remove the majority of evidence showing that the prisoners had been tortured and killed." Document also reports that the base contains clandestine burial sites.
The Rising Impact of the Bámaca Case on the Guatemalan Military
In response to increasing pressure over the fate of captured rebel leader Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, husband of U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury, the army high command orders military personnel to destroy any "incriminating evidence. . . which could compromise the security or status of any member of the Guatemalan military." The destruction of documents, holding pens and interrogation facilities has already been accomplished at the Retalhuleu air base (and the defense attaché writing this message describes exactly where those facilities used to exist on the base). Furthermore, the army has designed a strategy to block future "United Nations investigating commissions" from entering bases to examine army files.
Perspective on Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez
Description of the Guatemalan military officer who was a paid intelligence asset for the CIA until the U.S. press revealed in March of 1995 his role in covering up the murder of American inn-keeper Michael DeVine in 1990, and in the torture and murder of Efraín Bámaca. In the mid-1980s, Alpírez served as an intelligence officer in the highlands where his job was to eliminate insurgents and sympathizers. "Colonel Alpírez reportedly excelled at this assignment. . ."