Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 5, 2001
Human rights violations growing in Guatemala
Since the ousting of President Arbenz in 1954 by the CIA to protect the banana monopoly of the United Fruit Co., Guatemala has suffered under various repressive military regimes.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. politicians directly involved in the coup also happened to be shareholders or directors of United Fruit. Here is an early story of corporate power influencing foreign policy that is well documented, but which has received little public attention.
Today, about four years after a comprehensive peace agreement was signed to end a 36-year brutal civil war, there are disturbing reports of new waves of human rights violations.
There have been threats and intimidations against peace activists and break-ins at the offices of civil rights organizations, which have brought legal action against the military for their complicity in massacres and genocide, as well as break-ins of the office of ex-presidential opposition candidate Alvaro Colom.
A little more than a year ago, Alfonso Portillo of the right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) was elected as president in a landslide victory on the promise to bring prosperity, order and reconciliation to the country.
He has failed to deliver. The economy is slumping, violent crimes are on the rise and the military are still firmly entrenched. Ex-military intelligence major Byron Barrientos, not exactly known for his support of human rights, is minister of the interior.
The peace commitment to dismantle the military Presidential General Staff (EMP) has been postponed. The EMP is responsible for solving the case of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was assassinated days after publishing Nunca Mas, an indictment of the military in the torture, disappearances and massacres of thousands of civilians.
The alleged involvement of the EMP itself in the murder of Gerardi has resulted in a farcical investigation, fraught with problems. Even the bishop's old dog was a suspect for a while.
The trial of three former EMP chiefs, implicated in the 1990 murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack has also been delayed indefinitely. The rape of Sister Diana Ortez has never been dealt with in the courts in spite of her long vigils in front of the White House. Also unresolved remains the recent disappearance of university professor Mayra Gutierrez.
Senators Ted Kennedy, Pat Leahy, James Jeffords and Christopher Dodd wrote President Alfonso Portillo in October that "the upsurge of extra judicial executions are reminiscent of the violent excesses of the past."
The U.S. however maintained a close working relationship with the Guatemalan military at all levels during the past half century, supplying it with weapons, training its brass at the School of the Americas and providing outright political support for the successive military regimes to secure U.S. national interests.
President Bill Clinton, in one of his confessions, stated that "support for Guatemalan military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong and the United States must not repeat that mistake."
But in some ways the past and present have come full circle. The real power in Guatemala belongs to the leader of the Congress, former general Efrain Rios Montt, avowed born again Christian and Guatemala's military ruler during the peak of civil war violence.
During his reign the most heinous acts of savagery were committed in the name of God. This dubious connection between God and the death squads warrants a further examination.
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