|Part of Guatemalan Civil War|
Excavation of the corpses of victims of the Guatemalan Civil War.
|Forced disappearance, Genocidal massacre|
|Perpetrators||Guatemalan government, local militias|
|Motive||Suppressing alleged Leftist rebels|
The Guatemalan genocide, Mayan genocide, or "Silent Holocaust" refers to the massacre of Maya civilians during the Guatemalan military government's counterinsurgency operations. Massacres, forced disappearances, torture and summary executions of guerrillas and especially civilian collaborators at the hands of US-backed security forces had been widespread since 1965 and was a longstanding policy of the military regime, which US officials were aware of. The repression reached genocidal levels in the predominantly indigenous northern provinces where the EGP guerrillas operated. There, the Guatemalan military viewed the Maya - traditionally seen as subhumans - as being supportive of the guerillas and began a campaign of wholesale killings and disappearances of Mayan peasants. While massacres of Indian peasants had occurred earlier in the war, the systematic use of terror against the Indian population began around 1975 and peaked during the first half of the 1980s. The military had carried out 626 massacres against the Maya during the conflict. The Guatemalan army itself acknowledged destroying 440 Mayan villages between 1981 and 1983, during the most intense phase of the repression. In some municipalities such as Rabinal and Nebaj, at least one third of the villages were evacuated or destroyed. A study by the Juvenile Division of the Supreme Court sanctioned in March 1985 revealed that over 200,000 children had lost at least one parent in the killings, of whom 25% had lost both since 1980, meaning that between 45,000 and 60,000 adult Guatemalans were killed during the period from 1980 and 1985. This does not account for the fact that children were often primary targets in many village massacres. Former military dictator General Efrain Rios Montt (1982-1983) was indicted for his role in the most intense stage of the genocide. An estimated 200,000 Guatemalan civilians were killed during the Guatemalan Civil War - 93% by government forces - including at least 40,000 persons who "disappeared". Of the 42,275 individual cases of killing and "disappearances" documented by the CEH, 83% of the victims were Maya, meaning that up to 170,000 Maya were killed in the Guatemalan genocide. A UN sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification in 1999 concluded that a genocide had taken place at the hands of the US-backed Guatemalan army, and that US training of the officer corps in counterinsurgency techniques "had a significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation."
Guatemalan intelligence was directed and executed mainly by two bodies: One the Intelligence Section of the Army, subsequently called Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the National Defense and generally known as "G-2" or S-2. The other the intelligence unit called Presidential Security Department, also known as "Archivo" or AGSAEMP (Archives and Support Services of the Presidential General Staff).
Archivo was formed with money and support from US advisors under President Enrique Peralta Azurdia, during which time it was known as the Presidential Intelligence Agency. A telecommunications database known as the Regional Telecommunications Center or La Regional was integrated into this agency and served as a vital part of the Guatemalan intelligence network. La Regional provided a link between the Presidential Intelligence Agency and all of the main security bodies, including the National Police, the Treasury Guard, the Judicial Police, by way of a VHF-FM intracity frequency. La Regional was also used by the government as a depository for records on suspected "subversives", which was the basis on which target lists for "death squads" were compiled. Orders to carry out assassinations and "disappearances" were often passed down the hierarchy to lower level security forces such as the Judicial Police (later renamed as the Detective Corps of the National Police and the DIT) or the Treasury Guard, whose agents - known as confidenciales - who could be called from provincial army garrisons to be sent to the capital for unspecified purposes. Treasury Police and National Police confidenciales could also be contracted either through provincial army commanders or by direct contact with provincial commanders of the police services. The confidenciales assembled in the capital using this system were often used in covert operations involving the use of "death squads".
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated that the intelligence services in Guatemala have been responsible for multiple human rights violations. The Truth Commission writes that their activity included the "use of illegal detention centres or 'clandestine prisons', which existed in nearly all Army facilities, in many police installations and even in homes and on other private premises. In these places, victims were not only deprived of their liberty arbitrarily, but they were almost always subjected to interrogation, accompanied by torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the majority of cases, the detainees disappeared or were executed."
The CEH stated that at no time during the internal armed confrontation did the guerrilla groups have the military potential necessary to pose an imminent threat to the State. The number of insurgent combatants was too small to be able to compete in the military arena with the Army, which had more troops and superior weaponry, as well as better training and co-ordination. The State and the Army were well aware that the insurgents’ military capacity did not represent a real threat to Guatemala's political order. The CEH concludes that the State deliberately magnified the military threat of the insurgency, a practice justified by the concept of the internal enemy. The inclusion of all opponents under one banner, democratic or otherwise, pacifist or guerrilla, legal or illegal, communist or non-communist, served to justify numerous and serious crimes. Faced with widespread political, socio-economic and cultural opposition, the State resorted to military operations directed towards the physical annihilation or absolute intimidation of this opposition, through a plan of repression carried out mainly by the Army and national security forces. On this basis the CEH explains why the vast majority of the victims of the acts committed by the State were not combatants in guerrilla groups, but civilians.
Repression in the 1960s and 1970s
The use of terror by the military and police forces in Guatemala emerged in the mid 1960s when the military government began to use "disappearances" as a tactic to dismantle the infrastructure of the PGT and MR-13 guerrillas. On the 3rd and 5th of March 1966, the G-2 and the Judicial Police raided three houses in Guatemala City, capturing twenty-eight trade unionists and members of the PGT. Those captured included most of the PGT's central committee and peasant federation leader Leonardo Castillo Flores. All subsequently "disappeared" while in the custody of the security force and became known in subsequent months by the Guatemalan press as "the 28". This incident was followed by a wave of unexplained "disappearances" and killings in Guatemala City and in the countryside which were reported by the Guatemala City press.
When press censorship was lifted for a period, relatives of "the 28" and of others who had "disappeared" in the Zacapa-Izabal military zone went to the press or to the Association of University Students (AEU). Using its legal department, the AEU subsequently pressed for habeas corpus on behalf of the "disappeared" persons. The government denied any involvement in the killings and disappearances. On 16 July 1966, the AEU published a detailed report on abuses in the last months of the Peralta regime in which it named thirty five individuals as involved in killings and disappearances, including military commissioners and members of the Ambulant Military Police (PMA) in coordination with the G-2. After the publication of this report, "death-squad" attacks on the AEU and on the University of San Carlos began to intensify. Many law students and members of the AEU were assassinated.
The use of such tactics increased dramatically after the inauguration of President Julio César Méndez Montenegro, who - in a bid to placate right-wing elements in the military - gave it carte blanche to engage in "any means necessary" to pacify the country. The military subsequently ran the counterinsurgency program autonomously from the Presidential House and appointed Vice-Defense Minister, Col. Manuel Francisco Sosa Avila as the main "counterinsurgency coordinator". In addition, the Army General Staff and the Ministry of Defense took control of the Presidential Intelligence Agency - which controlled the La Regional annex - and renamed it the Guatemalan National Security Service (Servicio de Seguridad Nacional de Guatemala - SSNG).
In the city and in the countryside, persons suspected of leftist sympathies began to disappear or turn up dead at an unprecedented rate. In the countryside most "disappearances" and killings were carried out by uniformed army patrols and by locally known PMA or military commissioners, while in the cities the abductions and "disappearances" were usually carried out by heavily armed men in plainclothes, operating out of army and police installations. The army and police denied responsibility, pointing the finger at right wing paramilitary death squads autonomous from the government.
One of the most notorious death squads operating during this period was the MANO, also known as the Mano Blanca ("White Hand"); initially formed by the MLN as a paramilitary front in June 1966 to prevent President Méndez Montenegro from taking office, the MANO was quickly taken over by the military and incorporated into the state's counter-terror apparatus. The MANO - while being the only death squad formed autonomously from the government - had a largely military membership, and received substantial funding from wealthy landowners. The MANO also received information from military intelligence through La Regional, with which it was linked to the Army General Staff and all of the main security forces.
The first leaflets by the MANO appeared on 3 June 1966 in Guatemala City, announcing the impending creation of the "White Hand" or "the hand the will eradicate National Renegades and traitors to the fatherland." In August 1966, MANO leaflets were distributed over Guatemala City by way of light aircraft openly landing in the Air Force section of La Aurora airbase. Their main message was that all patriotic citizen must fully support the army's counterinsurgency initiative and that the army was "the institution of the greatest importance at any latitude, representative of Authority, of Order, and of Respect" and that to "attack it, divide it, or to wish its destruction is indisputedly treason to the fatherland."
The Zacapa program: 1966-68
With increased military aid from the United States, the 5,000-man Guatemalan Army mounted a large pacification effort in the departments of Zacapa and Izabal in October 1966 dubbed "Operation Guatemala". Col. Carlos Arana Osorio was appointed commander of the "Zacapa-Izabal Military Zone" and took charge of the counter-terror program with guidance and training from 1,000 US Green Berets. Under Colonel Arana's jurisdiction, military strategists armed and fielded various paramilitary death squads to supplement regular army and police units in clandestine terror operations against the FAR's civilian support base. Personnel, weapons, funds and operational instructions were supplied to these organizations by the armed forces. The death squads operated with impunity - permitted by the government to kill any civilians deemed to be either insurgents or insurgent collaborators. The civilian membership of the army's paramilitary units consisted largely of right-wing fanatics with ties to the MLN, founded and led by Mario Sandoval Alarcón, a former participant in the 1954 coup. By 1967, the Guatemalan army claimed to have 1,800 civilian paramilitaries under its direct control.
Blacklists were compiled of suspected guerilla collaborators and those with communist leanings, as troops and paramilitaries moved through Zacapa systematically arresting suspected insurgents and collaborators; prisoners were either killed on the spot or "disappeared" after being taken to secret detention sites. In villages which the military identified as supportive of the FAR, the Army would publicly execute peasant leaders, threatening to execute more if the villagers did not collaborate with the authorities Among the numerous clandestine sites used by the army for incommunicado detention and torture of suspects, was the army headquarters in the hamlet of La Palma near Rio Hondo, Zacapa, where hundreds of persons suspected of belonging to the FAR were tortured and executed under G-2 bureau chief Hernán Ovidio Morales Páiz in 1966 and 1967. Government forces often dumped the bodies of victims publicly to foment terror; the press regularly contained reports of unrecognizable corpses found floating in the Motagua River, mutilated by torture. Fishermen in the municipality of Gualan reportedly stopped fishing the Motagua on account of the large number of mutilated bodies found in nets.
Estimates of the number of victims of the army-led counter-terror in the east run in the thousands to tens of thousands. In a 1976 report, Amnesty International cited estimates that up to 8,000 peasants were killed by the army and paramilitary organizations in Zacapa between October 1966 and March 1968. Other estimates put the death toll at 15,000 in Zacapa during the Mendez period. As a result, Colonel Arana Osorio subsequently earned the nickname "The Butcher of Zacapa" for his brutality. Many high-ranking veterans of the terror campaign - who became known as the "Zacapa Group" - went on to hold positions of great power in subsequent military regime. Among those involved in the Zacapa program were four future Guatemalan presidents - Col. Arana Osorio (1970-1974), Gen. Kjell Eugenio Laugerrud Garcia (1974-1978), Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia (1978-1982) and Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores (1983-1986). Arana's garrison intelligence chief - Col. German Chupina Barahona - went on to become the commander of the Mobile Military Police (PMA) and later chief of the National Police.
Arana presidency: 1970-74
In July 1970, Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio assumed the presidency. Arana, backed by the army, represented an alliance of the MLN - the originators of the MANO death squad - and the Institutional Democratic Party (MLN-PID). Arana was the first of a string of military rulers allied with the Institutional Democratic Party who dominated Guatemalan politics in the 1970s and 1980s (his predecessor, Julio César Méndez, while dominated by the army, was a civilian). Colonel Arana, who had been in charge of the terror campaign in Zacapa, was an anti-communist hardliner who once stated, "If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so."
Despite minimal armed insurgent activity at the time, Arana announced another "state of siege" on 13 November 1970 and imposed a curfew from 9:00PM to 5:00AM, during which time all vehicle and pedestrian traffic—including ambulances, fire engines, nurses, and physicians—were forbidden throughout the national territory. The siege was accompanied by a series of house to house searches by the police, which reportedly led to 1,600 detentions in the capital in the first fifteen days of the "State of Siege." Arana also imposed dress codes, banning miniskirts for women and long hair for men. High government sources were cited at the time by foreign journalists as acknowledging 700 executions by security forces or paramilitary death squads in the first two months of the "State of Siege". This is corroborated by a January 1971 secret bulletin of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency detailing the elimination of hundreds of suspected "terrorists and bandits" in the Guatemalan countryside by the security forces.
While government repression continued in the countryside, the majority of victims of government repression under Arana were residents of the capital. "Special commandos" of the military and the Fourth Corps of the National Police acting "under government control but outside the judicial processes", abducted, tortured and killed thousands of leftists, students, labor union leaders and common criminals in Guatemala City. In November 1970, the 'Judicial Police' were formally disbanded and a new semi-autonomous intelligence agency of the National Police was activated known as the 'Detectives Corps' - with members operating in plainclothes - which eventually became notorious for repression. One method of torture commonly used by the National Police at the time consisted of placing a rubber "hood" filled with insecticide over the victim's head to the point of suffocation.
Some of the first victims of Arana's state of siege were his critics in the press and in the University. In Guatemala City on 26 November 1970, security forces captured and disappeared journalists Enrique Salazar Solorzano and Luis Perez Diaz in an apparent reprisal for newspaper stories condemning the repression. On 27 November, National University law professor and government critic Julio Camey Herrera was found murdered. On the following day, radio station owner Humberto Gonzalez Juarez, his business associate Armando Bran Valle and a secretary disappeared, their bodies were subsequently found in a ravine. Later in 1975, a former member of the Detective Corps of the National Police - jailed for a non political murder - took credit for the killing.
In October 1971, over 12,000 students at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala went on a general strike to protest the killing of students by the security forces; they called for an end to the "state of siege." On 27 November 1971, the Guatemalan military responded with an extensive raid on the main campus of the university, seeking cached weapons. It mobilized 800 army personnel, as well as tanks, helicopters and armored cars, for the raid. They conducted a room-to-room search of the entire campus but found no evidence or supplies.
A number of death squads - run by the police and intelligence services - emerged in the capital during this period. In one incident on 13 October 1972, ten people were knifed to death in the name of a death squad known as the "Avenging Vulture." Guatemalan government sources confirmed to the U.S. Department of State that the "Avenging Vulture" and other similar death squads operating during the time period were a "smoke screen" for extralegal tactics being employed by the National Police against non-political delinquents. Another infamous death squad active during this time was the 'Ojo por Ojo' (Eye for an Eye), described in a US State Department intelligence cable as "a largely military membership with some civilian cooperation". The 'Ojo por Ojo' tortured, killed and mutilated scores of civilians linked to the PGT or suspected of collaborating with the FAR in the first half of the 1970s.
In spring 1973, a land dispute broke out between campesinos and landowners in Sansirisay, El Progresso in eastern Guatemala. When a group of Xinca peasants staged a land takeover, the government responded by massacring many villagers in Sansirisay. Future president General Efrain Rios Montt, then Col. Arana's Chief-of-Staff, is alleged to have personally ordered and directed the massacre. Anywhere from 100 to several hundred campesinos were killed in this massacre.
According to Amnesty International and domestic human rights organizations such as 'Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Persons', over 7,000 civilian opponents of the security forces were 'disappeared' or found dead in 1970 and 1971, followed by an additional 8,000 in 1972 and 1973. In the period between January and September 1973, the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission documented the deaths and forced disappearances of 1,314 individuals by death squads. The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission estimated 20,000 people killed or "disappeared" between 1970 and 1974.
Amnesty International mentioned Guatemala as one of several countries under a human rights state of emergency, while citing "the high incidence of disappearances of Guatemalan citizens" as a major and continuing problem in its 1972–1973 annual report. Overall, as many as 42,000 Guatemalan civilians were killed or "disappeared" between 1966 and 1973.
The repression in Guatemala City and in the eastern regions left the insurgency without a strong civilian support base and reduced the insurgents capacity to organize and maintain any formidable guerrilla forces. However, popular discontent with human rights violations and social inequality in Guatemala persisted. The insurgency did not remain dormant for long and a new guerrilla organization calling itself the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (E.G.P.) entered the forests of Ixcán to the north of Quiche province from southern Mexico in January 1972, the same year in which Col. Arana announced the end of the 'state of siege'. Unbeknownst to the Guatemalan intelligence services, the EGP embedded itself among the Indian campesinos and operated clandestinely for three years, holding its first conference in 1974.
The EGP carried out its first guerrilla action on Saturday, 7 June 1975, assassinating the infamous landowner José Luis Arenas - known in the local area as the "Tiger of Ixcán" while on the premises of his farm "La Perla". In front of Arenas office were approximately two to three hundred campesinos awaiting their payment and four EGP guerrillas mixed among farmers. Subsequently, the guerrilla members destroyed the communication radio of the farm and executed Arenas. After having murdered José Luis Arenas, guerrilla members spoke in Ixil language to the farmers, informing them that they were members of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor and had killed the "Tiger of Ixcán." They requested to prepare beasts to help the injured and were transported to Chajul to receive medical care. Then the attackers fled towards Chajul.
While the presence of guerrillas in Ixcán was initially denied by then-Defense Minister Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia, the government responded by systematically seizing and killing many Indian campesinos in the area, particularly those belonging to peasant cooperatives. It was at this time that the military's perception of the Indian population as being pro-revolutionary began to take shape and evolve into a systematic terror campaign against the Indians and those working with the Indian population in the development of cooperatives and in the church. On 7 July 1975, a contingent of army paratroopers arrived in the marketplace of Ixcán Grande. There they seized 30 men who were members of the Xalbal cooperative and took them away in helicopters; all were subsequently "disappeared". A confirmed 163 cooperative and village leaders were assassinated by death squads between 1976 and 1978. Believing that the Catholic Church constituted a major part of the social base of the EGP, the regime also began singling out targets among the catechists. Between November 1976 and December 1977, death squads are known to have murdered 143 Catholic Action catechists of the 'Diocese of El Quiche.' Documented cases of killings and forced disappearances during this time represent a small fraction of the true number of killings by government forces, especially in the indigenous highlands, as most killings of persons went unreported.
Massacre at Panzos
Also located in the Northern Transversal Strip, the valley of the Polochic River was inhabited since ancient times by k'ekchí and P'okomchi people. In the second half of the nineteenth century, President Justo Rufino Barrios (1835-1885) began the allocation of land in the area to German farmers. Decree 170 (or decree of Census Redemption Decree) facilitated the expropriation of Indian land in favor of the Germans, because it promoted the auction of communal lands. Since that time, the main economic activity was export-oriented, especially coffee, bananas and cardamom. The communal property, dedicated to subsistence farming, became private property led to the cultivation and mass marketing of agricultural products. Therefore, the fundamental characteristic of the Guatemalan production system has since that time been the accumulation of property in few hands, and a sort of "farm servitude" based on the exploitation of "farmer settlers".
In 1951, the agrarian reform law that expropriated idle land from private hands was enacted, but in 1954, with the National Liberation Movement coup supported by the United States, most of the land that had been expropriated, was awarded back to its former landowners. Flavio Monzón was appointed mayor and in the next twenty years he became one of the largest landowners in the area. In 1964, several communities settled for decades on the shore of Polochic River claimed property titles to INTA which was created in October 1962, but the land was awarded to Flavio Monzón. A Mayan peasant from Panzós later said that Flavio Monzón "got the signatures of the elders before he went before INTA to talk about the land. When he returned, gathered the people and said that, by an INTA mistake, the land had gone to his name." Throughout the 1970s, Panzós farmers continued to claim INTA regularization of land ownership receiving legal advice from the FASGUA (Autonomous Trade Union Federation of Guatemala), an organization that supported the peasants' demands through legal procedures. However, no peasant received a property title, ever. Some obtained promises while other had provisional property titles, and there were also some that only had received permission to plant. The peasants began to suffer evictions from their land by farmers, the military and local authorities in favor of the economic interests of Izabal Mining Operations Company (EXMIBAL) and Transmetales.
In 1978 a military patrol was stationed a few kilometers from the county seat of Panzós, in a place known as "Quinich". At this time organizational capacity of peasant had increased through committees who claimed titles to their land, a phenomenon that worried the landlord sector. Some of these owners -among them Flavio Monzón- stated: "Several peasants living in the villages and settlements want to burn urban populations to gain access to private property", and requested protection from Alta Verapaz governor.
On 29 May 1978, peasants from Cahaboncito, Semococh, Rubetzul, Canguachá, Sepacay villages, finca Moyagua and neighborhood La Soledad, decided to hold a public demonstration in the Plaza de Panzós to insist on the claim of land and to express their discontent caused by the arbitrary actions of the landowners and the civil and military authorities. Hundreds of men, women, indigenous children went to the square of the municipal seat of Panzós, carrying their tools, machetes and sticks. One of the people who participated in the demonstration states: "The idea was not to fight with anyone, what was required was the clarification of the status of the land. People came from various places and they had guns."
There are different versions on how the shooting began: some say it began when "Mama Maquín" -an important peasant leader- pushed a soldier who was in her way; others argue that it started because people kept pushing trying to get into the municipality, which was interpreted by the soldiers as an aggression. The mayor at the time, Walter Overdick, said that "people of the middle of the group pushed those who in front." A witness says one protester grabbed the gun from a soldier but did not use it and several people argue that a military voice yelled: One, two, three! Fire!" In fact, the lieutenant who led the troops gave orders to open fire on the crowd.
The shots that rang for about five minutes, were made by regulation firearms carried by the military as well as the three machine guns located on the banks of the square. 36 Several peasants with machetes wounded several soldiers. No soldier was wounded by gunfire. The square was covered with blood.
Genocide under Lucas Garcia
After the massacre at Panzos, repression against the Indian population became increasingly ruthless and a pattern of systematic killings and acts of genocide began to emerge. Several lesser known massacres occurred during the same time period. On 8 September 1978 the Mobile Military Police of Monteros, Esquipulas, on orders from local landowners César Lemus and Domingo Interiano, abducted eight campesinos from Olopa, Chiquimula. On 26 September, the Military Police returned to Olopa and seized 15 additional villagers. All were subsequently found dead from drowning and hanging. The next day, the Assistant mayor of Amatillo, Francisco Garcia, addressed himself to the Court of Olopa to report on the events and to request identification of the bodies in order to bury them. That very night Garcia was also abducted and murdered. All told, more than 100 villagers of Olopa were murdered by the Mobile Military Police in 1978, including several religious workers, 15 women and more than 40 children. The PMA were reported by peasants to murder small children in Olopa by grabbing them and breaking their backs over the knees.
On 4 August 1978, high school and university students, along with other popular movement sectors, organized the mass movement's first urban protest of the Lucas García period. The protests, intended as a march against violence, were attended by an estimated 10,000 people. The new minister of the interior under President Lucas García, Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz, promised to break up any protests done without government permission. The protesters were then met by the Pelotón Modelo (Model Platoon) of the Guatemalan National Police, then under the new director-general, Colonel Germán Chupina Barahona (like Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia, a member of the "Zacapa Group" and former commander of the PMA). Employing new anti-riot gear donated by the United States Government, Platoon agents surrounded marchers and tear-gassed them. Students were forced to retreat and dozens of people, mostly school-aged adolescents, were hospitalized. This was followed by more protests and death squad killings throughout the later part of the year. In September 1978 a general strike broke out to protest sharp increases in public transportation fares; the government responded harshly, arresting dozens of protesters and injuring many more. However, as a result of the campaign, the government agreed to the protesters' demands, including the establishment of a public transportation subsidy.
Weary of the possibility that the scenario unfolding in Nicaragua at the time would occur in Guatemala, the government of General Romeo Lucas Garcia began a large-scale covert program of selective assassination, overseen primarily by Interior Minister Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz and National Police chief Col. German Chupina Barahona, who together controlled all of the military and paramilitary security services. Targets included peasants, trade unionists, cooperative members, student activists, university staff, members of the judiciary, church leaders and members of centrist and left-leaning political parties. The deaths of these people, labeled as "subversives" by the government, were largely attributed to a new vigilante organization calling itself the "Secret Anticommunist Army" (ESA), a group linked to the offices of Col. Germán Chupina. The ESA had announced its existence on 18 October 1978 in the aftermath of the bus fare strikes and authored a series of bulletins announcing its intent to murder government opponents. A parallel operation targeting common criminals began at roughly the same time the ESA began its operations. The killings of common "criminals" by the security services were subsequently blamed on a death squad called the "Escuadron de la Muerte" (EM). This new wave of mass killings benefited from a government publicity campaign in which regular statistics were provided by government spokespersons on killings of "subversives" and "criminals" which the authorities attributed to the ESA and the EM, ostensibly as a way of using the media to downplay the government's responsibility and terrorize the left.
Statistics reported in the domestic press (often originating from government spokespersons) and by human rights organizations suggest that a minimum of 8,195 persons were assassinated in Guatemala in 1979-80, a rate which exceeds Col. Arana's "state of siege" in 1970-71. Abductions and disappearances of civilians by the death squads were carried out under the public eye by heavily armed personnel sometimes identifying openly as members of the security forces, and traveling in vehicles easily identifiable as belonging to the Guatemalan National Police and other security agencies, particularly red Toyota jeeps either unmarked or sporting military license number sequences. Unrecognizable cadavers were frequently found mutilated and showing signs of torture.
The bodies of many of those abducted by the death squads in the city were disposed of in San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, which became notorious as a dumping ground for cadavers. In March 1980 the cadavers of student activist Liliana Negreros and some three dozen others were found in a ravine on the outskirts of Comalapa. Most had been killed with a garrote or shot in the back of the head and showed signs of torture. The U.S. embassy called the discovery "ominous" and suggested that the extreme right was responsible. CIA sources indicated that "Highest levels of the Guatemala government through the National Police hierarchy are fully aware of the background of the burial site. .[It] was a place where the National Police Detective Corps disposed of its victims after interrogations."
A new agency known as the Presidential General Staff (known by the Spanish acronym EMP) was placed under the command of Col. Héctor Ismael Montalván Batres in 1979. After its formation, the EMP took control of the telecommunications unit La Regional which was renamed Archivo General y Servicios de Apoyo del EMP - AGSAEMP - or Archivo for short. As documented in Amnesty International's 1981 report, the telecommunications annex of the National Palace served as a command center for the death squads, as it had in the early 1970s under Arana. A center existed within the National Police known as the Joint Operations Center (Centro de Operaciones Conjuntas de la Policía – COCP), which forwarded intelligence on "subversives" from the National Police headquarters to the Archivos. Such information included the names of potential death squad victims. Documents were later recovered from the National Police archives which were sent from the COCP to the EMP to notify its agents of "delinquent subversives" and their whereabouts, including exact addresses.
At the National Palace, a special group known as the CRIO (Centro de Reunion de Informacion y Operaciones) would convene to review operational intelligence and plan counterinsurgency operations. The CRIO consisted of all of the country's primary intelligence and security chiefs, including Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia, Col. Chupina, Interior Minister Donaldo Alvarez, Gen. Hector Antonio Callejas y Callejas (Chief of the G-2 under Lucas) and the heads of the Treasury Police and the Chief of Migration. It based on meetings of the CRIO that "hit lists" for the death squads were drawn up.
Genocide under General Benedicto Lucas
Using 1,500 troops, the army retook the village of Chupol, Quiche in the first week of December 1981. Wholesale massacres of indigenous peasant communities became commonplace, in what was perceived at the time as a marked change in strategy. In some communities of the region's military forced all residents to leave their homes and concentrate in the county seat under military control. Some families obeyed; others took refuge in the mountains. K'iche's who took refuge in the mountains, were identified by the Army with the guerrillas and underwent a military siege, and continuous attacks that prevented them from getting food, shelter and medical care. Sources with the human rights office of the Catholic Church estimated the death toll from government repression in 1981 at over 11,000, with most of the victims indigenous peasants of the Guatemalan highlands.
Genocide under Ríos Montt
In the remote Guatemalan highlands, where the military classified those most isolated as being more accessible to the guerrillas, it identified many villages and communities as "red" and targeted them for annihilation. This was especially true in El Quiche, where the army had a well-documented belief from the Benedicto Lucas period that the entire indigenous population of the Ixil area was pro-EGP. A major part of Rios Montt's pacification strategy in El Quiche was "Operation Sofia," which began on 8 July 1982 on orders from Army Chief of Staff Héctor Mario López Fuentes. "Operation Sofia" was planned and executed by the 1st Battalion of the Guatemalan Airborne Troops with the mission to "exterminate the subversive elements in the area - Quiché."
During Ríos Montt's tenure, the abuse of the civilian population by the army and the PACs approached overkill. Civilians are reported to have been beheaded, garroted, burned alive, bludgeoned to death, or hacked to death with machetes. At least 250,000 children nationwide were estimated to have lost at least one parent to the violence; in El Quiche province alone these children numbered 24,000. In many cases, the Guatemalan military specifically targeted children and the elderly. Soldiers were reported to have killed children in front of their parents by smashing their heads against trees and rocks. Amnesty International documented that the rate of rape of civilian women by the military increased during this period, including rape of pregnant women.
The CIIDH database documented 18,000 killings by government forces in the year 1982. In April 1982 alone (General Efraín Ríos Montt's first full month in office), the military committed 3,330 documented killings, a rate of approximately 111 per day. Historians and analysts estimate the total death toll could exceed this number by the tens of thousands. Some sources estimate a death toll of up to 75,000 during the Rios Montt period, mostly within the first eight months between April and November 1982.
For more than two decades Human Rights Watch has reported on the State Terror in Guatemala. A report from 1984 discussed "the murder of thousands by a military government that maintains its authority by terror. HRW have described extraordinarily cruel actions by the armed forces, mostly against unarmed civilians. One example given is the massacre of over 160 civilians by government soldiers in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982. The abuses included "burying some alive in the village well, killing infants by slamming their heads against walls, keeping young women alive to be raped over the course of three days. This was not an isolated incident. Rather it was one of over 400 massacres documented by the truth commission – some of which, according to the commission, constituted "acts of genocide."
Resurgence of urban terror
After taking power, the Mejia government moved to systematically eliminate what remained of the opposition using the previously established means of torture, extrajudicial killing and "forced disappearance"- particularly at the hands of the 'Department of Technical Investigations' (DIT), specialized units of the National Police and the "Archivo" intelligence unit. For the purposes of selective terror, the CRIO was reconstituted and meetings between high ranking security chiefs were again held in the presidential palace to coordinate the repression. Officers who participated in the CRIO selection process included new jefe of the G-2, Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada; chief of the EMP, Juan Jose Marroquin Salazar and National Police Chief, Col. Hector Bol de la Cruz. In Mejia Victores's first full month in power, the number of documented monthly kidnappings jumped from 12 in August to 56 in September. The victims included a number of US Agency for International Development employees, officials from moderate and leftist political parties, and Catholic priests. Intelligence was "extracted through torture" and used by the CRIO to coordinate joint military and police raids on suspected insurgent safe-houses in which hundreds of individuals were captured and "disappeared" or found dead later. A special counterinsurgency unit of the National Police was activated under Col. Hector Bol de la Cruz known as the Special Operations Brigade (BROE), which operated out of the fifth police precinct in Guatemala City. The BROE carried out the work of National Police squads which had been disbanded under the previous government - such as the Commando Six - and was linked to dozens of documented forced disappearances.
In a report to the United Nations, Guatemala's Human Rights Commission reported 713 extrajudicial killings and 506 disappearances of Guatemalans in the period from January to September 1984. A secret United States Department of Defense report from March 1986 noted that from 8 August 1983 to 31 December 1985, there were a total of 2,883 recorded kidnappings (3.29 daily); and kidnappings averaged a total of 137 a month through 1984 (a total of approximately 1,644 cases). The report linked these violations to a systematic program of abduction and killing by the security forces under Mejía Víctores, noting, "while criminal activity accounts for a small percentage of the cases, and from time to time individuals ‘disappear’ to go elsewhere, the security forces and paramilitary groups are responsible for most kidnappings. Insurgent groups do not now normally use kidnapping as a political tactic."
Between 1984 and 1986, military intelligence (G-2) maintained an operations center for the counterinsurgency programs in southwest Guatemala at the southern airbase at Retalhuleu. There, the G-2 operated a clandestine interrogation center for suspected insurgents and collaborators. Captured suspects were reportedly detained in water-filled pits along the perimeter of the base, which were covered with cages. In order to avoid drowning, prisoners were forced to hold onto the cages over the pits. The bodies of prisoners tortured to death and live prisoners marked for disappearance were thrown out of IAI-201 Aravas by the Guatemalan Air Force over the Pacific Ocean ("death flights").
La Llorona massacre, El Estor
La Llorona, located about 18 kilometers from El Estor, department of Izabal (part of the Northern Transversal Strip), was a small village with no more than twenty houses. Most of the first settlers arrived from the areas of Senahú and Panzós, both in Alta Verapaz. In 1981 the total population was about 130 people, all belonging to q'eqchi' ethnic group. Few people spoke Spanish and most work in their own cornfields, sporadically working for the local landowners. In the vicinity are the villages El Bongo, Socela, Benque, Rio Pita, Santa Maria, Big Plan and New Hope. Conflicts in the area were related to land tenure, highlighting the uncertainty about the boundaries between farms and communities, and the lack of titles. As in the National Institute of Agrarian Transformation (INTA) was not registered a legitimate owner of land occupied La Llorona, the community remained in the belief that the land belonged to the state, which had taken steps to obtain title property. However, a farmer with great influence in the area occupied part of the land, generating a conflict between him and the community; men of the village, on its own initiative, devised a new boundary between community land and the farmer, but the problem remained dormant.
In the second half of the seventies were the first news about the presence of guerrillas in the villages, the commander aparacimiento Ramon, talking to people and saying they were the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. They passed many villages asking what problems people had and offering to solve them. They told peasants that the land belonged to the poor and that they should trust them. In 1977, Ramon a -guerilla commander- regularly visited the village of La Llorona and after finding that the issue of land was causing many problems in the community, taught people to practice new measurements, which spread fear among landowners. That same year, the group under Ramon arbitrarily executed the Spanish landowner José Hernández, near El Recreo, which he owner. Following this, a clandestine group of mercenaries, dubbed "fighters of the rich" was formed to protect the interests of landlords; public authority of El Estor organized the group and paid its members, stemming from the funding of major landowners. The group, irregular, was related to the military commissioners of the region and with commanders of the Army, although mutual rivalries also took place. The secret organization murdered several people, including victims who had no connection whatsoever with insurgent groups.
In December 1978, the EGP group leader, Ramon, was captured by soldiers of the military detachment in El Estor and transferred to the military zone of Puerto Barrios; after two years returned to El Estor; but this time as an officer in the Army G2 and joined a group of soldiers that came to the village. On the evening of 28 September 1981, an army officer accompanied by four soldiers and a military commissioner met with about thirty civilians. At seven o'clock, over thirty civilians, mostly from "Nueva Esperanza', including several 'informants' known to military intelligence, gathered around La Llorona along with some military commissioners and a small group of soldiers and army officers. Then they entered the village. Civilians and commissioners entered twelve houses, and each of them were pulling men and shot them dead outside their own homes; those who tried to escape were also killed. Women who tried to protect their husbands were beaten. While the military commissioners and civilians executed men, soldiers subtracted belongings of the victims; within half an hour, the authors of the assault left the village. The victim bodies, fourteen in all, were in front of houses. Women, despite having been threatened with death if telling what had happened, ran to the nearest village, El Bongo, for help. After a few hours, women came back with people who helped to bury the bodies. Days later, widows, with almost 60 fatherless children were welcomed by the parish of El Estor for several days, until the soldiers forced them to return to their village. Two widows of those executed on 29 September established close relations with the military commissioners from Bongo. This situation led to divisions that still exist in the community.
The economic and social activity was disrupted in the village: widows had to take the jobs of their husbands; because of their lack of knowledge in the cultivation of land, harvested very little corn and beans. There were diseases, especially among children and the elderly, there was no food or clothing. The teacher of the village came only part-time, mostly out of fear, but left after he realized it was not worth to stay because young people had to work. Nor could they spend money on travel. The village had no teacher for the next four years. The events generated finally the breakup of the community. Some village women though that their husbands were killed because of three others who were linked with the guerrillas and were involved in a land dispute.
List of other massacres perpetrated by the Army in Franja Transversal del Norte
The report of the Recovery of Historical Memory lists 422 massacres committed by both sides in the conflict; however, it also states that they did the best they could in terms of obtaining information and therefore the list is incomplete; therefore here are the cases that have also been documented in other reports as well.
|1||Ilom (village), Chajul||Quiché||23 March 1982||After 1981 repression against Ilom was rampant, ending with the massacre of 96 alleged guerilla members in front of their families on 23 March 1982. Soldiers were from the military base in "La Perla" while survivors fled and seek shelter in Comunidades de Población en Resistencia -Resistance population communities-.|
|2||Chel (village), Chajul||Quiché||3 April 1982||A part of operation "Victoria 82", Army soldiers from the military fort in "La Perla" rushed into Chel settlement, because it had been targeted as "subversive". The attack left 95 dead civilians.|
|3||Chisis (village), San Juan Cotzal||Quiché||13 February 1982||Chisís was a military target for the Army, who considered the village symbolic for the EGP and believited it was the guerrilla headquarters where the attacks in Chajul, Cotzal, and Nebaj had been planned. In January 1982, EGP attacked Cotzal military base; the attack lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes, resulting 100 military casualties and 20 for the guerilla. PAC and Army battalions, in revenge, completely destroy Chisis, leaving approximately 200 dead civilians behind.|
|4||Acul (village), Nebaj||Quiché||April 1982||Combat against EGP. There were 17 deaths.|
Reparations and reconciliation
The CEH's final report recommended several measures to promote reparation and reconciliation, including the creation of a National Reparations Program, searches for the disappeared, and exhumations of victims to bring closure to families. The report also called for an official public apology from both the president and the ex-leadership of the URNG, the creation of monuments, a holiday to commemorate victims, and the widespread distribution of the report to educate about the war and promote a culture of "mutual respect." The CEH report advocated social and agrarian reform, specifically declaring the need to reform the judicial system and address racism and social inequality.
Of these recommendations, only a few have been implemented by 2012. The National Reparations Program (Spanish: Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, or PNR) was created in 2003, mandated to focus on "material restitution, economic restitution, cultural restitution, dignifying victims and psycho-social reparations." According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, as of March 2012, 52,333 victims had been registered with the PNR and of those, more than 24,000 victims and/or families had received monetary reparations for crimes including rape, torture, execution and forced disappearance. Some other measures, such as naming streets after victims and creating a "Day of Dignity" to commemorate victims, have been instituted. PNR has primarily worked on economic reparation.
Following the release of the CEH report in 1999, President Álvaro Arzú apologized for the government's role in the atrocities of the war. Ex-leaders of the URNG also apologized and asked forgiveness of the victims. In 2012, President Otto Pérez Molina denied that there had been genocide in Guatemala, arguing that it was impossible as a large portion of the army was indigenous.
The report was disseminated country-wide, but only parts of it were translated into Mayan languages. In addition, high rates of illiteracy have made it difficult for the general population to read the written report.
Exhumations of victims have been pursued throughout Guatemala, providing some truth through discovery of bodies. Several NGOs have been created to provide psychological support to families witnessing an exhumation, and forensic groups have helped with identification of remains. This has provided both closure for some families as they locate loved ones, and potential evidence for future government prosecution of crimes.
While Guatemala has achieved some forms of reparation, it faces significant instability and social inequality. Many of the estimated 1.5 million people displaced by the civil war have remained displaced. One million people migrated to the United States. In addition, in 2005, there were 5,338 murders in a total population of 12 million. The high levels of violence and instability in Guatemala are exemplified by a clash between protesters and police in October 2012, when police opened fire on a group of protesting teachers, killing seven. The country still has high rates of poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition.
Prosecutions and convictions
In August 2009, a court in Chimaltenango sentenced Felipe Cusanero, a local farmer, who was part of a network of paramilitaries who gave information about suspected leftists living in their villages to the army during Guatemala's counterinsurgency campaign, to 150 years in prison for his part in the disappearance of half a dozen indigenous members of a Mayan farming community over the two-year period of 1982–1984. He was the first person to ever be convicted for carrying out acts of forced disappearance during the Civil War. He appeared before three judges to face his sentence. He received a 25-year prison sentence for each of his victims. It was hailed as a "landmark" sentence. Hilarion López, the father of one of the victims, said: "We weren't looking for vengeance but for the truth and justice". The families have called on Cusanero to tell them where their bodies are. Cusanero was photographed being carried away by police afterwards. By August 2011, four former officers from the Guatemalan Special Forces (Kaibiles) were sentenced to 6,060 years in prison each for their involvement in the Dos Erres Massacre. In March 2011, a fifth former soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, was also sentenced to 6,060 years (after having been extradited from the United States) for his role in Dos Erres.
On 7 July 2015, Former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt has been declared mentally unfit to stand trial for committing genocide.
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- Guatemala National Police Archives
- Genocides in history
- Genocide of indigenous peoples
- According to Guatemalan leftists, this is only a euphemism to refer to "native slaves".
- Another threat at that time for peasant proprietors were mining projects and exploration of oil: Exxon, Shenandoah, Hispanoil and Getty Oil all had exploration contracts; besides there was the need for territorial expansion of two megaprojects of that era: Northern Transversal Strip and Chixoy Hydroelectric Plant.
- In municipal act 34-64 (published 9 January 1965) one can see the first indication of military presence in the region, when it was written that it was imperative to incorporate order and security in the area.
- Picture I.1.a, 28 October 1981, "Información confidencial con remisión manuscrita al COCP 1981".
- 83% of the "fully identified" 42,275 civilians killed by human rights violations during the Guatemalan Civil War were Mayan. This estimate come from applying the 83% proportion to 200,000 disappeared and killed during total war and rounded up to nearest ten thousandth .< See CEH 1999, p. 17, and "Press Briefing: Press conference by members of the Guatemala Historical Clarification Commission". United Nations. 1 March 1999. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
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Flavio Monzón arrived to Panzós in 1922. He was mayor six times: elected three and "appointed" the other. In 1940 made town hall to give him his first land. In the early 1960s he bought finca San Vicente, and then Canarias, San Luis, Las Tinajas, and finally, Sechoc.
- Diario de Centro América 1978, p. 5.
- Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico: Agudización 1999, p. Testigo directo.
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- McClintock 1985, p. 180; As documented in Amnesty International's 1981 report "Guatemala: A Government Program of Political Murder," National Police spokesmen informed the local press that the ESA had killed 3,252 "subversives" between 1/1979 and 10/1979 while the Escudron de la Muerte killed 1,224 "criminals" between 1/1979 and 6/1979. Additionally, he 'Democratic Front Against Repression' detailed the killings of at least 3,719 persons in the year 1980.
- Latin America Working Group 1991.
- The Canadian Forum, Volume 62. Charles Bruce Sissons, Richard De Brisay Survival Foundation, 1982, p. 13
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