Since the Spanish left Central America in the 1820s, Guatemala remained under autocratic rule. Then in 1951, social democrat Jacobo Arbenz became Guatemala's first popularly elected president. Initially he was given support by both communists and urban non-communists. Arbenz had voted in the United Nations more along United States than along Soviet lines. Arbenz's centerpiece was land reform. 2.2 percent of landowners owned 70 percent of arable land, while the income of the peasants averaged $87 per year. Arbenz planned the distribution of land to 100,000 landless peasants and to make improvements in union rights as well as making social reforms. The 1953-1954 legislature in which Arbenz had a majority consisted of the communists having only four of 51 seats.
By 1945, the Boston-based corporation owned 566,000 acres of land and employed 15,000 people in Guatemala. The largest portion of land was acquired in 1935 under the dictatorship of Jorge Ubico. Its subsidiary was International Railways of Central America which employed 5,000 workers and owned 690 of the country's 719 miles of track. This made International Railways of Central America the second largest employer in Guatemala.
ARBENZ IS DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED. In 1953, Guatemalan voters went to the polls and for the first time legitimately elected a democrat, Jacobo Arbenz. He began plans to initiate social and economic reforms among the country's peasants. One of Arbenz's first steps was to purchase the United Fruit Company and to parcel out small plots of land to the peasants. In February 1953, Arbenz expropriated 40 percent of property owned by United Fruit.
The Eisenhower administration was accustomed to working with right wing Latin American dictators and their oppressive militaries. Arbenz's social reform were totally foreign to them, and they did not know how to deal with this reformist populism which was popularly received in Guatemala. Eisenhower had no proof that Guatemala was a communist country. In 1954, Secretary of State Dulles told the Brazilian ambassador "that it will be impossible to produce evidence clearly tying the Guatemalan government to Moscow." Dulles claimed that Guatemalans were living under a "communism type of terrorism," and President Eisenhower portrayed the new government in Guatemala as a "communist dictatorship." The United States ambassador to Guatemala stated that "we cannot permit a Soviet Republic to be established between Texas and the Panama Canal." Senator Margaret Chase Smith maintained that the "unjustified increases in the price of coffee" were a result of communist control of the country. Arbenz's social reforms were no more extreme or "communist" than those proposed a decade later by John Kennedy when he launched the Alliance for Progress in Latin America.
THE CIA INTERVENES. The United Fruit Company had close ties to the CIA. Walter Bedell, former CIA Director and Under Secretary of State, had been an executive of United Fruit, and later he was named to its board of directors. The United Fruit Company used its Washington connections to influence the Eisenhower administration to initiate clandestine operations against the new and fragile democracy. The president of United Fruit, Sam "The Banana Man" Zemurray, hired Washington lobbyist Thomas Corcoran to meet with key Eisenhower assistants and to encourage them to orchestrate a coup. A former United Fruit president, Thomas Dudley, was the brother of Eisenhower's first Assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had been an executive partner with the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell which also represented United Fruit. Also, CIA Director Allen Dulles had been an attorney with Sullivan and Cromwell and had done litigation for United Fruit in Guatemala in the 1930s. Ann Whitman, Eisenhower's personal secretary, married Ed Whitman who was the principal lobbyist for United Fruit. Assistant Secretary of State John Cabot owned stock in United Fruit, and his brother had been the president of the banana giant.
Bribes were given by the CIA to top military officers, and appeals were made to young men to join the army. The first action taken against Arbenz was by several high military officers. They asked Arbenz to remove all communists from his administration. When he stated that they were no threat, he was asked to step down, but he declined the offer. Then the CIA deposited a large sum of money in a Swiss bank account to attempt to lure him into resigning.
In March 1953, United Fruit donated $64,000 to the CIA which soon began plans for a coup to attempt to topple Arbenz. CIA Director Dulles meticulously oversaw Operation Success, which began as a clandestine to topple the democracy and to assassinate Arbenz. United Fruit executives first went to Miguel Fuentes who had been defeated by Arbenz in the previous elections. But Fuentes did not want to be a part of a coup. Then CIA Director Dulles met with Fuentes, and again he assured the agency that he was not interested. In December 1953, the CIA turned to Colonel Castillo Armas who had fled to Honduras. Armas agreed to issue a decree which stated his intention of overthrowing the Arbenz government.
The CIA was able to enlist about 170 Guatemalan exiles. The agency used propaganda tactics to encourage a revolt within the country. The "Voice of Liberation" broadcasted propaganda, calling Armas "an agent of communism," and encouraging a peasant insurrection. The CIA also printed 200 articles and distributed anti-Armas leaflets throughout the cities. The agency also used planes to drop leaflets, calling for an uprising.
In May 1997, the CIA began to declassify some documents. Some revealed that the CIA had considered assassinating dozens of Guatemalan political leaders as part of its covert action to topple the Arbenz government. Even though it is a small fraction of the total classified CIA documents on Guatemala, 1,400 pages were declassified. The first planning sessions occurred in 1952 when the CIA acknowledged that it considered executing "supposed communists" and "those in high positions of the government" and that their elimination would "bring about its (Guatemala's) collapse." The agency considered assassination "as a substitute for, or in combination with, paramilitary operations." Not only was this discussed a lower levels, but senior agency officials as well as State Department officials were involved. Both CIA and State Department officials acknowledged that 58 political enemies had been targeted.
In June 1997, the CIA declassified 1,400 pages on the Guatemala coup of 1954. Former CIA historian Nick Cullather stated that the agency directly lied to President Dwight Eisenhower when it told him that only one of the agency-backed rebels had died in the Guatemala coup. In fact, at least 43 rebels were killed. The account also concluded that the Guatemalan operation to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz was marked by poor security, bad planning, and third-rate reporting. The declassified document also described the leaders installed by the CIA as repressive and corrupt. The CIA admitted that the coup destroyed the political center in Guatemala, which "vanished from politics into a terrorized silence," and led to a series of brutal military governments and a "cycle of violence and reprisals" that "claimed the lives of a United States ambassador, two American military attaches, and as many as 10,000 peasants" in the 1960s.
In May 1954, Arbenz turned to Czechoslovakia for military weapons in order to guard against a possible American intervention. Arbenz purchased 2,000 tons of arms which were sent on a Swedish ship Alfhem which evaded several attempts of interception enroute to Guatemala. One CIA official wanted to sink the ship in the Guatemalan port of Puerto Barrios, but that plan was rejected by his superiors. Instead, the CIA approved a plan to dynamite the railroad tracks outside Puerto Barrios, so that the arms shipment would be stalled. But that plan backfired when the rain-soaked detonators failed. CIA operants quickly opened fire on the passing train but failed to stop the shipment of weapons to the Guatemalan military. As it turned out, the weapons were of little use to the Guatemalan military, since they were comprised of cannons which could be used when mounted on railroad cars; anti-tank guns but there were no tanks in the area; and antiquated small arms, most of which were inoperable.
As events moved quickly, the CIA soon feared that the Arbenz government might attempt to procure oil from the British ship Springfyord which was sailing to Costa Rica. An American plane, based in Somoza's Nicaragua, was ordered to sink the Springfyord. All the crew members survived the bombing mission. Then it was ascertained that the Springfyord carried only coffee and cotton. The United States attempted to squelch the incident by compensating the British $1.5 million.
The CIA sent 30 planes to Nicaragua, Honduras, and Panama, and the United States signed security treaties with Honduras and Nicaragua. The CIA also flew planes over Guatemala with Soviet markings. On June 18 CIA planes dropped leaflets which demanded Arbenz's resignation, while CIA radio stations broadcast the same message. The CIA distributed over 100,000 copies of pamphlets entitled "Chronology of Communism in Guatemala," and the agency made three films critical of the Arbenz government. Over 27,000 copies of posters and cartoons critical of Arbenz were distributed in the cities and the countryside. In the spring of 1954 the CIA stepped up covert activities throughout Central America. In Mexico City, The Congress against Soviet Intervention in Latin America was established as a CIA front to attempt to gain American support to overthrow the Arbenz government. In Nicaragua the CIA used Somoza to make a statement that Soviet weapons were being secretly imported and that Nicaragua was on the verge of falling to communism.
The White House gave the CIA the approval to wage an open war against Guatemala. While American planes bombed ports, military sites, airports, schools, and villages, the United States Navy deployed two submarines to the region. The CIA broadcasted disinformation at the American embassy and claimed that rebels had seized villages and that the Arbenz government was in the process of being toppled. However, only a couple of small villages across the Honduran border were captured. As part of the disinformation campaign, the United Fruit Company claimed that the Arbenz government was brutal and repressive and published fabricated pictures of mutilated bodies in mass graves. In addition, the CIA dropped hundreds of dummy parachutes in order to convince Guatemalans that a major American invasion was imminent. The intent was to instill in the Guatemalan people the noticed that the government's military had collapsed and that any resistance movement was futile.
Meanwhile in the United States, the Eisenhower administration disseminated stories that Arbenz had arbitrarily imprisoned thousands of political prisoners. The White House also orchestrated an attempt to block the United Nations Security Council from forming an investigating committee to seek the truth about the Arbenz government. The resolution was defeated by a 5-4 vote. Still unable to destroy Guatemala's fragile democracy, the CIA resorted to dropping several dud bombs in Honduras. Believing that these sorties were flown by Guatemalan planes, Honduras filed complaints with both the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
The coup was close to being a success when senior Guatemalan army officers issued an ultimatum to Arbenz. He had to choose between resigning and the military collaborating with the CIA. One army officer was paid $60,000 by the CIA to surrender his command. At the same time the CIA was broadcasting that the invaders were on the verge of marching into Guatemala City. It was true that Colonel Castillo Armas was nearing the capital city; however, he was advancing with only a handful of soldiers. To prevent failure, the CIA bombed a British oil tanker which, the agency believed, had arrived at a Guatemalan port to pump off fuel for Arbenz's military vehicles. Finally, Guatemala's foreign minister attempted to strike a deal with the State Department, while the CIA continued to bomb economic targets as well as civilians. His pleas went unheard, and American planes still proceeded to bomb a military base and destroy the government radio station.
On June 20, 1954, Armas entered Guatemala City in a station wagon along with about 140 soldiers. In a few trucks. There was no uprising. The United States placed Colonel Castillo Armas in power, and he immediately rescinded the land reform, and the land once owned by the United Fruit was returned. The banana workers' unions and peasant organizations, as well as political parties, were immediately banned. Three-fourths of the population, those making up the lower rungs of society, were prohibited from voting.
THE UNITED STATES INSTALLS ARMAS AS "PRESIDENT." After Armas was installed as "president," American foreign aid mushroomed from $463,000 to $10,708,000 in only 12 months. Armas was invited to the United States where he received a hero's welcome. He received honorary doctorates from Columbia and Fordham universities. He was invited to visit Eisenhower in a Kansas hospital where he was recovering from a heart attack. Then Armas testified before the Subcommittee on Communist Penetration of the Western Hemisphere of the House Select Committee on Communist Aggression. He warned members of Congress that "we have merely won the first battle of the long war. Our most complicated and more serious difficulties are still ahead." He offered the American multinational corporation $525,000, while United Fruit demanded $16 million for its telephone and banana industry and nearly all railroad lines. Of the United Fruit Company's 550,000 acres, nearly 400,000 acres were nationalized, and then parcels were handed over to Guatemalan peasants. The Armas government offered the multinational 25 year bonds at 3 percent guaranteed interest for the exact book value of the assets claimed by the United Fruit Company to the Guatemalan government for tax purposes. United Fruit rejected the offer.
THE GUATEMALAN CIVIL WAR. The CIA actively trained Guatemalan military leaders and provided intelligence reports and funds for the military dictatorships since the civil war erupted in the late 1950s. Numerous human rights organizations have charged the Guatemalan government with murder, torture, and kidnappings throughout the country's civil war. For example, the Recuperation of the Historical Memory Project (REMHI) itself, based on the study of more than 55,000 human rights violations suffered in Guatemala over the 36 year period of civil strife in that country, identified the security forces as responsible for some 79 percent of the abuses investigated.
CIA documents released in 1997 revealed that a CIA officer was in the room where Guatemalan intelligence officers -- responsible for death squad killings -- planned their covert operations in 1965. The reports showed that CIA and other American officials played a key role in the late 1960s in centralizing command structures and communications of agencies that would be involved in death squad killings for years. They contained CIA reports also mentioned the secret executions of Communist Party leaders by Guatemalan government agencies in 1966 that Guatemalan officials publicly denied.
During Carter's administration, military assistance to Guatemala was terminated due to reports of serious human rights violations. Another wave of terrorism against guerrillas began in 1967, as military dictatorships ruled the country. In the early 1980s, the Guatemalan dictatorship stepped up its campaign against leftist guerrillas. Amnesty International charged that the Guatemalan regime carried out a "government campaign of political murder" and that corruption in the upper echelon of the military was wide spread. Amnesty International estimated that 250 to 300 political murders and that numerous kidnappings were occurring each month.
In 1982, Guatemalan troops surrounded the presidential palace and forced the abdication of President Romero Lucas Garcia. A military junta was established under General Efrain Rios Montt who declared that "authentic democracy" was being restored to Guatemala. The next day a military triumvirate suspended the constitution and declared martial law. Declaring that fraud was the reason for the military coup, it was Montt who ruled amidst continuous charges of holding fraudulent elections.
After only one year in office, Reagan reversed American policy and began providing aid to the Guatemalan military government. A year later in 1983, the Reagan administration sent $250,000 in International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds to Guatemalans to defend themselves from guerrilla attacks. The military's campaign against suspected leftists intensified throughout the 1980s. In 1985, human rights groups claimed that since 1960, 100,000 Guatemalans had been killed. Estimates were that 1,000 political assassinations per month in 1984 were carried out and that 100,000 orphans and 500,000 displaced people lived within the country. At the same time that these reports were published, the State Department contended that human rights were improving in Guatemala.
In 1987, Jorge Serrano Elias was elected and established what appeared to be a mild form of democracy. However, seven years later, Serrano suspended constitutional rights and dissolved the Guatemalan congress and supreme court. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations continued the American foreign aid continued to flow into Guatemala in the 1980s and 1990s despite human rights groups reporting that human rights violations continued.
According to Piero Gleijeses of Johns Hopkins University, "the Reagan administration wanted to pretend the officers were good people, but it was the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that gave them muscle to create a murderous machine. That's when the Frankenstein was created." In 1990, President Bush cut off American aid to Guatemala following the unexplained 1990 murder of an American innkeeper near an army base. Nevertheless, the CIA continued to pump money to the Guatemalan military behind the back of the State Department. Two senior CIA officers lost their jobs after Congressional intelligence committees found that the CIA station in Guatemala was keeping human rights violations secret from CIA headquarters and Congress. Under the Clinton administration, Anthony Harrington, who led Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board, stated, "The board asked itself: the Cold War's over -- what are we doing down there?"
Additionally, the declassified materials showed that the CIA station in Guatemala City knew that the Guatemalan army was massacring entire Mayan villages, while Reagan administration officials publicly supported the military regime's human-rights record. Even after the war was won, the documents revealed that Defense Intelligence Agency officials knew that the Guatemalan military was destroying evidence of torture centers and clandestine graveyards in 1994. Nevertheless, the Clinton administration never publicly revealed these events.
Guatemalan Defense Minister Hecto Gramajo Morales was served a court summons in 1991 as he graduated from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard where he had studied on a scholarship provided by the American government. The judge stated that "the evidence suggests that Gramajo devised and directed the implementation of an indiscriminate campaign of terror against civilians." According to author William Blum (Rogue State), an American court ordered Gramajo to pay $47.5 million in damages in 1995. That included damages to eight Guatemalans and an American citizen for his responsibility in the torture of Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American nun. Additionally, the court mandated that Morales pay for the massacre of family members of thousands of Guatemalans for whose deaths he was responsible. However, Gramajo returned to Guatemala without having paid any of the court judgment.
In April 1998, Bishop Gerardi, coordinator of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop (ODHA) was murdered. This was only two days after he presided over presentation of ODHA's Historical Memory Project report. In the days immediately following his death, a number of church personnel and human rights defenders, which included several involved in the REMHI project, received death threats. The murder of Bishop Gerardi of Guatemala City heightened fears for the security of human rights defenders. At the Madrid press conference, the Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric (ODHA) charged that there probably was evidence to directly implicate the military in Gerardi's murder. The Guatemalan army denied that military personnel had been involved in the bishop's death, and said that it reserved the right to initiate legal proceedings against anyone making unfounded accusations against military officials.
Archbishop Prispero Penados del Barrio confirmed that all the information, including that about the two probable military officers involved, were made available to the special commission appointed by the government to investigate Gerardi's death. The archbishop also called for the office of the Presidential Chief of Staff to be investigated to see if it was behind the increased monitoring of church officials' telephones and posts which had occurred since the assassination.
In 1995, the CIA's chief of the Latin American Division, Terry Ward, failed to inform Congress about human rights abuses in Guatemala. Five years later he was awarded by the CIA with the agency's the highest honors, the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal. Ward's award was for "exceptional achievements" during a 30-year covert career despite his dismissal for failing to report on CIA ties to a Guatemalan colonel linked to two murders in the early 1990s. Ward first began his CIA career in Laos in the early 1960s but then shifted to Latin America where he served in Argentina from 1965 to 1968, the Dominican Republic to 1970, Bolivia to 1972, Venezuela from 1973 to 1975, Peru to 1977, and Honduras from 1987 to 1989. He then served as chief of the Latin American Division in the early 1990s and eventually became the station chief in Switzerland in 1995.
The honoring of Ward illustrated the bitter divide between CIA career officials and their critics in Congress and the human rights community over the agency's performance in the Cold War conflicts of Latin America. Paul Redmond was a CIA chief of counterintelligence when Ward covered up CIA abuses in the 1990s. According to the Director Deutch fired Ward for purely political reasons to appease critics and then leaked his name to the media at a time when he was serving under cover overseas. On the other hand, CIA officials claimed that Ward's firing was proof that the agency is neither above the law nor out of control. Milt Bearden, a former CIA station chief in Bonn, said that Ward was a fall guy for the agency.
Jennifer Harbury was an American lawyer who helped magnify the severity of the scandal by waging a hunger strike outside the White House in 1994. She wanted the CIA and other agencies to reveal what they knew about the 1992 death of her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Guatemalan leftist guerrilla. According to the Washington Post (March 10, 2000), Harbury said, "The CIA is living down to its reputation in giving this award. And they weren't acting in good faith (five years ago) when they said they were cleaning up their act. Obviously, they didn't mean what they said."
As a result of the attention that Harbury brought to the case, Democratic New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, disclosed in March 1995 that the CIA never shared with Congress allegations that Guatemalan Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, a paid CIA informant, had been involved in the killings of Bamaca and Michael Devine, an American citizen slain in 1990. Torricelli learned of the CIA's reporting failures from Richard Nuccio, a senior State Department official. Deutch later stripped Nuccio of his top secret security clearance. Nuccio claimed that he broke no law or regulation by sharing sensitive intelligence data with a member of Congress.
DOCUMENTS RELEASED. In late 1998, four human rights organizations -- the National Security Archive, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Office on Latin America, and Human Rights Watch -- released previously classified documents about the Guatemalan military against Marxist guerrillas. These documents were the first to reveal that the military systematically killed rebels and their sympathizers. The internal documents, however, are the first to detail the military's role in systematically killing rebels and their alleged sympathizers. Approximately 200,000 people were killed in a country of 12 million.
Guatemalan Army intelligence documents revealed that the military kept detailed records of people which its units had captured or killed in its 36 year long civil war which officially concluded in December 1996. The documents included a military intelligence logbook which recorded individual arrests and contained photographs of 183 people from August 1983 to March 1985. In most cases, the dates they were killed also are noted. Separated into four main parts, the logbooks contained surveillance studies on reportedly subversive organizations; lists of subversive safe houses that had been raided and the contents of each house; and lists of organizations described as "facades for the service of subversion," including the Association of University Students, the Democratic Front Against Repression, and Amnesty International.
The logbook also contained the names of detainees who were numbered one through 183. Next to their names was the location of capture. Then it listed the prisoner's affiliations with suspected subversive groups and any suspicious activities such as travels to Cuba, meetings held in homes; and participation in demonstrations. Then the fate of each detainee was described. A wallet-size picture of each detainee was glued next to the description of each person.
Some of the entrees included:
Prisoner No. 1, Teresa Graciela Samayoa Morales, the book said, "traveled to Cuba."
Prisoner No. 17, Orencio Sosa Calderon "is in charge of taking foreign journalists to film different guerrilla fronts."
Prisoner No. 52, Prudencio de Jesus Carrera Camey, 15, a member of the Guatemalan Workers Party "apparatus responsible for painting cars."
HISTORICAL CLARIFICATION COMMISSION -- 1999 REPORT. The Guatemalan civil war officially ended in 1996. The independent Historical Clarification Commission -- a truth commission established as a part of a United Nations-supervised peace accord that ended the war in 1996 -- published its findings in February 1999. The three-member commission and an international staff of 272 workers made extensive use of recently declassified documents from the State Department.
According to the New York Times (February 26, 1999), the commission concluded that the United States gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed "acts of genocide" against the Mayan people during Guatemala's 36 year civil war. The commission's conclusion contradicted the years of official denial about the torture, kidnapping, and execution of thousands of civilians in a war that took 200,000 lives.
The report concluded that American companies and government officials "exercised pressure to maintain the country's archaic and unjust socioeconomic structure" and that the CIA supported illegal counterinsurgency operations here. The commission listed the American training of the officer corps in counterinsurgency techniques as a key factor "which had a significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation." The commission concluded that the government or allied paramilitary groups were to blame for more than 90 percent of the 42,000 human rights violations, 29,000 of which resulted in deaths or missing persons. That number was higher than that reported in a 1998 study by the Roman Catholic Church which examined human rights abuses.
In addition, the report confirmed that the CIA aided Guatemalan military forces. It revealed that the United States helped train and equip the Guatemalan military in the 1960s and that the CIA maintained close ties to the military in the early 1980s when the army was killing thousands of civilians. the Mayan population paid the highest price, when the military identified them as natural allies of the guerrillas. The report said that the atrocities were "aggressive, racist and extremely cruel nature of violations that resulted in the massive extermination of defenseless Mayan communities."
The commission specifically listed the American training of the officer corps in counter-insurgency techniques at Fort Benning as a key factor "which had a significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation." The report maintained that massacres, illegal detentions, torture, disappearances, and executions were a direct result of government policy. But it failed to identify individuals responsible for various massacres. The report's estimate of over 200,000 deaths was higher than previous figures, and the number of documented massacres exceeded figures used in previous examinations. As a result of American policy, entire Mayan villages were attacked, burned and inhabitants were slaughtered in an effort to deny the guerrillas protection. The report said that 83 percent of the victims of executions and disappearances were Mayans.
Christian Tomuschat, coordinator of the Historical Clarification Commission, said: "The commission's investigations demonstrate that until the mid-1980s, the United States Government and U.S. private companies exercised pressure to maintain the country's archaic and unjust socio-economic structure. In addition, the United States Government, through its constituent structures, including the Central Intelligence Agency, lent direct and indirect support to some illegal state operations."
The Historical Clarification Commission published "Guatemala, Memory of Silence"in February 1999. It reported: "The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala's history."
Weeks after the commission released its scathing report, President Clinton apologized for the American support of Guatemala's right wing regime. The president said, "For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake." Clinton added that the United States would no longer take part in campaigns of repression."We must and will, instead, continue to support the peace and reconciliation process in Guatemala."
Clinton also specifically pledged to try to change the rules under which Salvadorans and Guatemalans who entered the United States in the 1980s have to prove that they faced political retribution if they were returned to their home countries. Under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act of 1997, Cubans and Nicaraguans who entered the United States illegally fleeing left-wing governments are granted a presumption of political hardship and given amnesty from deportation.
1999 ELECTIONS. In the summer of 1999, voters in Guatemala rejected a series 47 of constitutional reforms, including proposals to give the nation's majority indigenous people equal rights. The reforms were aimed at improving the country's social, political, and economic problems which lasted during Guatemala's 36-year civil war. It would have officially recognized the legal and cultural rights of Guatemala's indigenous people for the first time since Europeans arrived here in the sixteenth century. While the government has recognized Mayan Indians and other indigenous peoples as citizens, it has not officially recognized their two dozen languages.
Critics said the outcome indicated the widespread distrust of politicians, especially those in Congress. They viewed the reforms as only cosmetic improvements which were hammered out by politicians behind closed doors before they were submitted to the people in the form of a referendum. They contended that the government should have done more to educate the public, particularly indigenous communities about the significance of the proposed reforms. In large cities, the referendum was widely publicized in newspaper articles, pamphlets, billboards, and television commercials. However, virtually nothing was done to encourage the poorer indigenous to go to the polls. Had the reforms passed, the Guatemalan Congress would have been required to consult indigenous groups before passing legislation that might affect them, and Mayans would have been given access to sites they consider sacred. In addition education, health care and judicial services would have been made available in indigenous languages.
The proposals also called for limiting the army's functions and establishing the national police as the only force in charge of domestic security. Also included were measures that would have limited presidential powers; that would have made federal officials unaccountable to Congress; and that would have guaranteed money for the country's judiciary.
RIGHT-WING DEATH SQUADS CONTINUE. On May 5, 2001, an American nun, Sister Barbara Ann Ford, was killed by a group of heavily armed men in Guatemala City. They allegedly attempted to rob her vehicle, which was property of the Diocese of El Quiché. The Mutual Support Group (GAM), a Guatemalan human rights organization representing families of the disappeared, considered her murder "an extra-judicial execution and therefore a crime of political nature." The human rights group claimed: (1) the murder bore similarities to other political attacks and killings; (2) her work focused on victims of the armed conflict; and (3) her murder took place within the context of escalating threats and attacks against human rights workers.
Sister Ford came from the Religious of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul based in the Bronx, New York. She had been doing health work in Guatemala since 1978 in the departments of Sololá and Quiché. She was noted for the mental health programs which she established for psychological healing of victims of the civil war and for her attentiveness to the indigenous poor. She had worked on the Recovery of Historical Memory report (REMHI), which catalogued human rights violations during the 36-year civil war in Guatemala.
Since the sixteenth century, Indonesians had been subjected to Dutch rule. During World War II, Japan occupied Indonesia, and after their defeat the nationalist Sukarno proclaimed independence. In 1945, Allied soldiers, primarily British troops, landed and occupied Indonesia. Soon they were once again followed by the Dutch, whose role was to suppress any domestic uprisings by the natives. The next year a tentative fragile union was agreed upon, but fighting between Dutch and Indonesian forces continued for three years. Finally in 1949, the Dutch were granted sovereignty by the Netherlands. With some Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members in parliament, from the beginning the United States refused to trade with Indonesia. Despite the fact that Sukarno crushed PKI forces a year before independence was granted, he still was considered a communist and unacceptable to the Truman administration. From the outset, Sukarno pursued a centrist union to attempt to defeat the nationalist party of Sukarno. In 1955, the CIA threw its support -- in the amount of one million dollars -- behind the Masjumi Party, a coalition of Muslim organizations. The coalition was unsuccessful, and even the million dollars disappeared. Sukarno continued on a non-aligned path, refusing aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. Refusing to be a pawn of the United States, he was branded a communist.
The CIA then changed its strategy and began direct action against the nationalist government. In 1957, hand grenades were thrown at Sukarno. He escaped injury but 10 people were killed and 48 were wounded. Then the CIA disseminated reports that Sukarno traveled frequently with a blonde stewardess. The CIA knew of his womanizing and his fantasy to have sex with Marilyn Monroe. Subsequently they searched for a pornographic film which starred a Sukarno look-alike, someone who was tall and balding. Unable to find one, finally a film entitled "Happy Days" was supplied to them by the police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. The movie was distributed throughout much of Indonesia since the CIA hoped that Sukarno's reputation would be ruined and that his downfall would be imminent. However, the CIA intentions to discredit Sukarno failed.
In 1958, the CIA took direct military action against the Sukarno government. American pilots ran bombing missions primarily aimed at killing civilians. On May 18, CIA pilot Allen Pope was shot down and held prisoner for four years. When this was discovered, the CIA curtailed its flights after Pope's papers became public. The bombings continued for months, but the CIA was unable to win any significant victories. Tens of thousands were killed in one sortie alone resulted in over 700 casualties. Despite the direct involvement of the United States, Eisenhower stated that "our policy is one of careful neutrality and proper deportment all of the way through so as not to be taking sides where it is none of our business." Unable to make any success in its bombing campaign, the CIA curtailed its actions in the summer, and for seven years Sukarno remained in power.
For over seven years the CIA's goal was to infiltrate the Indonesian military. 1,200 Indonesian military officers, about one-third of their corps, had been trained in the United States. Thus, by 1965, the CIA succeeded in moving through these channels to gain the support of many right wing junior army officers. They killed six generals and seized the capital city of Jakarta. However, the officers were crushed within one day by General Suharto who claimed that the attempted coup had been led by PKI forces with outside communist influence. Suharto now urged Indonesians, particularly conservative Muslims, to kill anyone suspected of being PKI members and communist sympathizers. Suharto succeeded in forcing Sukarno to abdicate, and a military government was set in place. 750,000 Indonesians were arrested and put in concentration camps for up to 15 years. Anti-leftists were encouraged to kill anyone suspected of being sympathizers. Between 500,000 and one million people died at the hands of this repressive United States-backed authoritarian regime.
In 1997 the Indonesian economy plummeted due to the collapse of its currency, and demonstrators took to the streets to protest. Riots and looting broke out across Indonesia in early 1998, and protesters called for the resignation of Suharto. The International Monetary Fund demanded reform of the corrupt regime as a criterion for providing relief. In May Suharto resigned and turned over the presidency to his vice president, B. J. Habibie. During his tenure in power, Suharto amassed an estimated $40 billion, much of which came in the form of bribes, government contracts, and government-protected monopolies.
A month later Habibie allowed the first open national parliamentary elections in over 40 years. The elections were won by the Indonesian Democratic Party, the country's leading reform party led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno. She received 34 percent of the vote.
After over a year in office, the 700 member People's Consultative Assembly held a secret ballot in October 1999. The assembly refused to endorse Habibie's performance as president by a 355-322 vote. This no-confidence vote cost Habibie reelection, and it immediately boosted the chances of Sukarnoputr, his closest rival, of being chosen the country's leader. However, the assembly chose Abdurrahman Wahid who was able to defeat Sukarnoputri by a 373-313 vote. However, the following day, Sukarnoputri was elected vice-president by the assembly, defeating the leader of a Muslim party, Hamzah Haz, by a vote of 396 to 284.
Even though Wahid was seen by many as a reformer, one of his first measures was to make concessions to the far right. He said that he would retain cabinet members of Suharto's regime would be retained in his administration. He attempted to justify his decision by saying, "To attain the presidency I have to make compromises. But please be assured that although they will be included in the cabinet, I will make it that they should follow our code: to follow the current government's interests in honesty, frankness, and, most important, our economic development."
The Indonesian government formally filed its case against Suharto in August 2000, accusing him of embezzling $571 million. But analysts said that he was highly unlikely to be incarcerated, since he had suffered two strokes and was under house arrest here in the capital for months. Although Suharto never surrounded himself with the trappings of wealth, he and his family controlled an estimated $15 billion in business interests, ranging from tollways to airlines to cigarette and automobile factories.
Wahid apologized for his shortcomings and told lawmakers tough action was needed against separatists to prevent the country's disintegration. As reported in the New York Times (August 8, 2000), Wahid said, "We are in the process of soul-searching to find out what we want for the country and what our country should be." Although it received only a lukewarm response, there was a sense of relief in parliament because no rioting occurred in the streets. The military stationed a 28,000-man security force around parliament and other key sites in Jakarta in anticipation of anti-government demonstrations.
In July 2001, Indonesia's national assembly voted overwhelmingly today to dismiss Wahid. He was immediately replaced by his vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's founding president. The assembly's 591 to 0 decision to remove Wahid -- with nearly 100 pro-Wahid deputies boycotting the vote -- occurred just hours after he sparked a constitutional crisis by declaring a state of emergency and ordering security forces to shut down the assembly before it began proceedings to oust him for alleged incompetence and corruption. Police and military officials refused to carry out Wahid's demand and instead sent reinforcements to protect the parliament complex. (Washington Post, July 24, 2001)
AMERICAN MULTINATIONALS. The profits of American multinational corporations skyrocketed in the 1990s. Freeport McMoran, home-based in New Orleans, operates the world's largest gold mine and third largest copper mine in Irian Jaya. Freeport McMoran already has cut away more than 500 feet from Puncuk Jaya Mountain. Workers add water and chemicals to the dirt in order to bring the metals to the surface as they sift through dirt looking for gold and copper. Every day over 100,000 tons of waste rock is dumped into mountain rivers.
The waste materials have poisoned the waters, killed fish and trees, and contaminated the soil so crops cannot be raised. When indigenous Indonesians protested, they were confronted with Indonesian soldiers who frequently beat and tortured them. Freeport McMoran denied the charges that they poisoned the land and that they supported the military in its repression.
Nike has two advantages in Indonesia. First, in 1997 the government set the minimum wage at $2.46 a day, an amount that even Suharto's regime acknowledged as lower than a "living wage." Second, the government has repressed attempts by workers to organize. By law, Indonesia allowed only one official trade union federation. Muchtar Pakpahan, the founder of an independent and unauthorized trade union, was incarcerated until 1997.
In addition American multinational oil corporations continued to reap immense profits with their multi-billion dollar investments in Indonesia -- Texaco, Chevron, and Mobil.