Wars in the Backyard

The National Security Archive has just declassified eleven documents on the extra judicial arrests conducted 25 years ago by the government of Guatemala. It appears that the US embassy clearly knew that the security forces were involved in the kidnappings. In a Department of State secret report, dated March 1986, we can read:

While criminal activity accounts for a small percentage of the cases, and from time to time individuals “disappear” to go elsewhere, the security forces and rightist paramilitary groups are responsible for most kidnapping. Insurgent groups do not normally use kidnapping as a political tactic, although they did resort to kidnapping for ransom in their formative years.
First used systematically by security forces against Communist Party and members of the moderate left beginning in 1966, the practice of kidnapping became institutionalized over time. Some 6500 persons have been kidnapping or disappeared since 1977, far short of the 38,000 claimed by critics of the previous Guatemalan governments. The average number of monthly kidnapping peaked in 1984 under regime of General Mejia. At first security forces utilized kidnappings to intimidate the left and convince potential guerrilla supporters to remain neutral. Kidnapping of rural social workers, medical personnel, and campesinos became common between 1979-83. Often innocent victims were accused of being insurgents by military commissioners, other village leaders or an individual’s personal enemies or business competitors. (…) In the cities, out of frustration from the judiciary’s unwillingness to convict and sentence insurgents, and convinced that kidnapping of suspected insurgents and their relatives would lead to a quick destruction of the guerrilla urban networks, the security forces began to systematically kidnap anyone suspected of insurgent connections. This tactic was successful. Most of the insurgent infrastructure in Guatemala City was eliminated by 1984.

The Guatemalan Civil War ended formally in 1996. But violence did not. According to national newspaper Siglo XXI, in the last fourteen months, an average of 17.6 persons have been killed every day. How many during the 36 years of civil war? 15.2.

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Thursday, 19 March 2009