US Aided and Abetted Genocide
in Guatemala

Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America, April 1999

by George Friemoth, MITF Board


In an explosive report released on February 25 by the United Nations' Historical Clarification Commission (CEH), the US government and several American corporations were accused of complicity in the genocide of nearly 200,000 Mayan people during Guatemala's bloody 36-year civil war.

The final 3,600-page CEH report clearly places the blame for most of the 200,000 deaths on the "racist" policy of the Guatemalan government and holds the country's military and paramilitary forces responsible for the actual killings, tortures and disappearances. However, it accuses the US of directly and indirectly supporting a "fratricidal confrontation" by providing sustained training, arms and financial aid. The US role peaked in the 1981-1983 period, but did not end until the peace accords were signed in 1996.

The report is based on the testimony of 9,200 people from all sides of the conflict. The three commission members had an international staff of 272 workers, who spent 18 months assembling the report and who made extensive use of declassified US documents. The CEH investigated 42,000 human rights violations, 29,000 of which resulted in deaths or disappearances. The most significant findings were:

* The Guatemalan army and its paramilitary forces (the infamous "Civil Patrols") were responsible for 93% of the crimes. Leftist guerrillas (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity - URNG) were blamed for three percent of the crimes; four percent were unresolved. * There were 626 massacres that were attributed to the military and its allies and described as a "strategically planned genocide against the Mayan people." The URNG was blamed for another 32 massacres.

* The scorched earth operations, particularly in the early 1980's, resulted in entire villages being wiped out - men, women and children. "Special brutality [was] directed against Mayan women, who were tortured, raped and murdered." Large numbers of girls and boys were victims of extremely violent killings.

* The Guatemalan government used a relatively small Marxist insurgency (the URNG) as an excuse for the "physical annihilation" of all of its political opponents, the vast majority of them unarmed civilians. The executions and forced disappearances of Mayan leaders "were not only an attempt to destroy the social base of the guerrillas," the report said, "but above all, to destroy the cultural values that insured cohesion and collective action in Mayan communities."

The US Role

Commission chairman Christian Tomuschat, a respected German lawyer and human rights expert, stated that the US was responsible for much of the bloodshed. "The United States government and US private companies exercised pressure to maintain the country's archaic and unjust socioeconomic structure." He noted that the CIA and other US agencies "lent direct and indirect support to some illegal state operations." The support consisted of advising, training, arming and financing the overall operation.

The commission listed the American training of the Guatemalan officer corps in counter-insurgency techniques, including torture, as a key factor "which had a significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation." The US Army School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, was singled out for its role.

Specifically named was Guatemalan Military Intelligence (Ml) as the primary organizer of illegal detentions, torture, forced disappearances and executions. The report noted that most Ml officers were graduates of the SOA and maintained close and frequent contact with their US counterparts. Attempting to absolve himself, Mario Merida, former chief of Ml and one-time Minister of Interior, said "It was a war between the United States and the USSR. We should never have gotten involved." Guatemalan President Arzu and others argue that Guatemalans were merely victims of a civil war and that the country was used by the US as a surrogate Cold War battleground.

United Fruit and Coca Cola In 1954, the United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita Banana) pressured the US government to stage a ClA-directed coup that overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz. This action put an end to the first democratically elected president in Guatemalan history and set in motion the civil war that followed.

In the 1970's and 1980's, a US-owned bottling company licensed by Coca-Cola waged a war against Guatemalan trade unions, in which scores of people were killed by the military. The CEH report cited other cases of transnational intervention and human rights violations.

The Guatemalan and US governments should acknowledge once and for all their respective roles in the carnage. President Clinton took the first steps by authorizing the release of some classified documents, contributing to the funds for the commission's work and, in a recent trip to Guatemala, apologizing for the US role in the war. He said he would do everything he could, given funding limitations, to help in rebuilding the country. The URNG ex-guerrillas offered an official apology to the Guatemalan people. Last December, President Arzu apologized for the government's role in the war and called for a national forgiveness campaign.


The CEH recommended that all responsible companies recognize the facts and ask for pardon from society as a whole and from victims and their families in particular and that a presidential commission be created to investigate those responsible for torture, disappearances and genocide - crimes not exempted from the Peace aid caravans to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Cuba, in support of communities and non-governmental organizations that are working for peace and justice with dignity. Enroute, the caravans demonstrate the "People's Foreign Policy," which aims to support self-determination and sustainable development. The policy serves as an example to our own government, which historically has supported policies that discourage or actively suppress grassroots movements for progressive social change in Latin America.

In January 1996, Rev. Walker was arrested by US authorities because he dared to take computers to hospitals in Cuba. When the computers were seized, he and four others engaged in a "Fast for Life." The fast lasted 94 days and resulted in the release of the computers, which were later delivered to Cuba. Rev. Walker says his ministry is inspired by scripture. "The Bible says feed the hungry and clothe the poor. It doesn't say starve the communists."

At the age of 68, Rev. Walker is truly a "Walkin' the Talk" activist. This year he has announced two new projects: a Prison for Justice Caravan in the US and the first Pastors for Peace caravan to Haiti in September/October of this year.


Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America · 20 Sunnyside Ave., Suite 303-A, Mill Valley, CA 94941 · (415) 924-3227 E-mail: · April 1999

Human Rights, Justice, Reform