Heirs of Vladimir Lenin: History of Guatemala
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Uploaded on Nov 28, 2011
The Guatemalan Civil War (1960--96) involved the government, right-wing paramilitary organizations, and left-wing insurgents. A variety of factors contributed: social and economic injustice and racism against the indigenous population, the 1954 coup which reversed reforms, weak civilian control of the military, the United States support of the government, and Cuban support of the insurgents. The Historical Clarification Commission (commonly known as the "Truth Commission") after the war estimated that more than 200,000 people were killed — the vast majority of whom were civilian indigenous people. 93% of the human rights abuses reported to the Commission were attributed to the military or other government-supported actors. It also determined that in several instances the government was responsible for acts of genocide.
In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Gen. Ydígoras Fuentes, who took power in 1958 following the murder of Col. Castillo Armas, a group of junior military officers revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with Cuba. This group became the nucleus of the forces that were in armed insurrection against the government for the next 36 years.
Four principal left-wing guerrilla groups — the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA), the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and the Guatemalan Party of Labour (PGT) — conducted economic sabotage and targeted government installations and members of government security forces in armed attacks. These organizations combined to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in 1982. At the same time, extreme right-wing groups of self-appointed vigilantes, including the Secret Anti-Communist Army (ESA) and the White Hand (La Mano Blanca), tortured and murdered students, professionals, and peasants suspected of involvement in leftist activities.
Shortly after President Julio César Méndez Montenegro took office in 1966, the army launched a major counterinsurgency campaign that largely broke up the guerrilla movement in the countryside. The guerrillas then concentrated their attacks in Guatemala City, where they assassinated many leading figures, including U.S. Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968. Méndez Montenegro was the only civilian to head Guatemala until the inauguration of Vinicio Cerezo in 1986.
On March 23, 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers staged a coup d'état to prevent the assumption of power by General Ángel Aníbal Guevara, the hand-picked candidate of outgoing President and General Romeo Lucas García. They denounced Guevara's electoral victory as fraudulent. The coup leaders asked retired Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt to negotiate the departure of Lucas Guevara. Ríos Montt had been the candidate of the Christian Democracy Party in the 1974 presidential election and was widely regarded as having been denied his own victory through fraud.
Ríos Montt was by this time a lay pastor in the evangelical Protestant Church of the Word. In his inaugural address, he stated that his presidency resulted from the will of God. He was widely perceived as having strong backing from the Reagan administration in the United States. He formed a three-member military junta that annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress, suspended political parties and canceled the electoral law. After a few months, Ríos Montt dismissed his junta colleagues and assumed the de facto title of "President of the Republic".
Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies denounced Ríos Montt who sought to defeat the guerrillas with military actions and economic reforms; in his words, "rifles and beans". In May 1982, the Conference of Catholic Bishops accused Ríos Montt of responsibility for growing militarization of the country and for continuing military massacres of civilians. An army officer was quoted in the New York Times of 18 July 1982 as telling an audience of indigenous Guatemalans in Cunén that: "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you." The Plan de Sánchez massacre occurred on the same day.
The government began to form local civilian defense patrols (PACs). Participation was in theory voluntary, but in practice, many rural Guatemalan men (including young boys and the elderly), especially in the northwest, had no choice but to join either the PACs or be tarred as guerrillas. At their peak, the PACs are estimated to have included 1 million conscripts. Ríos Montt's conscript army and PACs recaptured essentially all guerrilla territory — guerrilla activity lessened and was largely limited to hit-and-run operations. However, Ríos Montt won this partial victory at an enormous cost in civilian deaths.
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