Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 12, 2001
When God squads and death squads unite
The Canadian government's attention has turned to Central America in an attempt to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
The focus is on Guatemala where Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, in spite of his complicity in the gross human rights violations during the mid 1980s, is still in a position of power as the congressional leader.
The country's unstable political and economic situation and growing disillusionment with President Alfonso Portillo who has been unable to implement the peace process, and recent attacks on human rights organizations, has led to public unrest.
Over 60 per cent of the population, primarily Mayan, lives on less than $2 a day. Around 50 per cent of the population is unemployed or underemployed. Gross maldistribution of land and wealth was the key reason for the eruption of civil violence decades ago.
Fear and insecurity may well lead to an appeal for the former general's heavy-handed ruling style. Incredibly, Rios Montt, responsible for some of the most heinous crimes against humanity, still enjoys a firm support base through his links to the military and the evangelical Church.
Here's why. After a February 1976 earthquake, foreign aid poured in and along came large numbers of evangelical volunteers from the California-based Gospel Outreach to rebuild homes and schools and to convert the peasants to a U.S. brand of Christianity.
The Church of The Word was founded with Rios Montt as the most popular preacher. His sermons were broadcast so even the illiterate would get the message.
In 1982, Rios Montt felt called by God to stage a coup. "We don't defend ourselves with the army or swords," he yelled through the microphone at the Campo de Marte stadium, "but through the Holy Spirit."
"Jesus Christ is our protection," he shouted and some 750,000 converts answered "Alleluia!"
As the appointed instrument of God, Rios Montt didn't ask for advice from anyone, only blind biblical obedience.
Fundamentalism stresses Scripture as the literal truth. Whether by design or coincidence, the effect is that people resign fatalistically to the inevitable, leaving it to God and the authorities to sort things out.
In the first two months of his reign, some 1,800 preachers arrived from the U.S. to win the hearts and minds of the peasants with gifts of food and clothing. The number of converts increased among the hungry internal refugees. Model villages, somewhat like reservations, were built to control the uprooted people. Civil guards were appointed to rat on their own relatives.
The law and order policy served U.S. national interests. Pat Robertson of the Pentecostal movement asked his TV audience to pray for the success of the Rios Montt regime. Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham also gave their support.
"As Nehemiah delivered the people of Israel," the evangelists were saying, "so has Rios Montt been sent to save Guatemala from the claws of communism."
During the first year of his rule, more than 15,000 peasants, including defenceless women and children were brutally murdered by the army. Thousands were displaced or "disappeared." Scores of villages were razed to the ground. The details of these atrocities are recorded in the Nunca Mas report by Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was murdered soon after the document was made public.
A 1998 report by the Historical Clarification Commission found compelling evidence of U.S. involvement in the successive reigns of terror imposed on Guatemala, when God squads and death squads worked hand in hand to introduce the Mayan people to the American Dream.
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