While the U.S. media are quick to report press censorship and human rights violations in Nicaragua, they tend to overlook what is happening in Guatemala. And we should be better informed about what is happening there since we are responsible to a degree.
“World class” human rights atrocities have been occurring in Guatemala for at least 30 years — since the CIA overthrew the democratic Arbenz government in the late 1950’s. That U.S.-assisted coup left a legacy of extremely brutal and oppressive governments that continues, unresolved, to this day. And, according to a former CIA official, the agency now concedes that the Arbenz coup “might have been” a mistake. Nonetheless, the U.S. continues to support the Guatemalan dictators either through financial or military aid.
In September, 1988, “America’s Watch” issued a summary of human rights abuses in Guatemala which increasingly have become worse since the failed coup attempt there on May 11, 1988. Reports at the time, indicated that “senior military officers appeared to have solidified their alliance with President Cerezo.” This meant that Cerezo’s civilian government conceded to 23 of 25 demands by the military including cancellation of dialogue with the guerrillas, cancellation of agrarian reform, limits on human rights groups, unions, and peasant organizations.
What this means to Guatemalans, according to Guatemalan Congressman Victor Morales, is that the country is “living through a wave of state terror.” Disappearances and political killings have escalated.
The Center for the Investigation, Study and Promotion of Human Rights reported that in March of 1988, there was a 133% increase in political violence over January, 1988.
The Army has also continued its policy of capturing populations of “displaced” Indians from their homes in the mountains. Between September 1987 and May 1988, some 3,700 people were brought to Neby and held in squalid shelters. After several weeks of interrogation, and, often times, torture, the Indians are brought to refugee camps or “model villages” as the government calls them. Some are then forced to join the Army under threat of death to them or their families. Some military personnel have admitted that they have had to “persuade” Indians to join due to the lack of volunteers.
Ever since 1981, the United Nations has classified Guatemala as a “special case” for the study of human rights violations along with Chile and El Salvador. The UN recently sent a team of investigators to examine recent human rights abuses perpetrated by the Guatemalan military while Amnesty International published a critical report on 1988 Guatemalan human rights abuses.
Nonetheless, U.S. support of the oppressive regime continues unabated. According to Americas Watch, following the failed coup last May, the government signed contracts with the U.S. to buy eight helicopters and 25,000 M-16 and A-2 rifles.
WOMEN FOR GUATEMALA, 12/23/88, correspondence from Patricia Castillo, of the Los Angeles Chapter; AMERICAS WATCH, 9/15/88, “Human Rights In Guatemala,” pp 1-6; INFORMATION B BULLETIN, Sept/Oct 1988, by Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, pp 1-11; BITTER FRUIT: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Doubleday, 1982.