Guatemala: US knew about 1980s abuses

The National Security Archive (NSA), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit institute, posted declassified US government documents on its website on March 18 that it says show the US government knew US-backed Guatemalan officials were behind the disappearance of thousands of people during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war.

“Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation,” a 1984 State Department report said. “The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme left-wing labor movement for interrogation,” then-US ambassador Frederic Chapin wrote in a 1984 cable.

The NSA obtained the documents from the US State Department under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). State Department spokesperson Fred Lash told the Associated Press that he was unaware of the declassified documents and could not immediately comment. More than 200,000 people, mostly Mayan civilians, died in the 36-year conflict. (Miami Herald, March 19 from AP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 22

See our last posts on Guatemala and Central America.

  1. Guatemala apologizes to Cuba for Bay of Pigs
    President Álvaro Colom of Guatemala apologized to Cuba last month for his country’s role in permitting the CIA to train Cuban exiles on Guatemalan soil to take part in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Guatemala’s Sierra Madre was the failed operation’s main training ground, with preparations also taking place in southern Florida and Panama. Colom, speaking at the University of Havana on his first official visit to the island, said he wished to “officially ask Cuba for forgiveness.” (NYT, Feb. 18)

  2. Of course, the US Embassy
    Of course, the US Embassy knew that the Guatemalan military and police murdered innocents. And, of course, the US Embassy also knew that the component parts of the URNG (the “revolutionaries”) murdered innocents with Khmer Rouge enthusiasm. And, Guatemalans continue to murder each other today, at world record pace, for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with worthless ideologies.

    If you read carefully, you will find that the US government was not somehow condoning the situation of the 1980s but, instead, reporting factually the information available. Ugly information, but not — as insinuated — a coverup. Is it impossible to consider that the embassy was doing its job and reporting the facts, as it knew them?

    You might also recall that the US government downgraded diplomatic relations with Guatemala and suspended military assistance around 1980: an inconvenient truth, perhaps.

    1. inconvenient truth
      Speaking of inconvenient truths, you may recall that Ronald Reagan was pressing Congress to restore military aid to Guatemala precisely when the above-mentioned documents were being drawn up, claiming the military regime had received a “bum rap.” (The aid was cut off under Carter, with his supposed “human rights” policy for the Americas—although this did not prevent him from restoring aid to the equally bloody Salvadoran junta when its fall seemed imminent.)

      As for your bogus equivalism—it is pure bunk. The UN Truth Commission determined that 90% of the 200,000 deaths in the Guatemalan civil war were attributable to the security forces. It is the generals, not the guerillas, who invite comparison to mass murderers like the Khmer Rouge.