“When U.S. military aid was cut off in 1977 by the Carter administration, other countries – including Israel, Argentina, Taiwan, and Belgium – filled the gap, with Israel becoming Guatemala’s principal military supplier, military adviser, and source of technical assistance and specialized training.”
– from THE GUATEMALAN MILITARY AND THE ESCUELA POLITÉCNICA, by Franklin Patterson, University of Massachusetts, 1988)
With your permission, I’d like to use my column today to inform you about your enemy. Sun Tzu insists that you should know as much as you can about your enemy. Belizeans, your enemy is the Guatemalan military, which now directly controls the political directorate in Guatemala.
The President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, is a General of the Guatemalan Army. He was an officer in the Guatemalan military during the presidencies of Lucas García and Ríos Montt. General Perez Molina was head of the EMP during the presidency of Ramiro de León Carpio, from 1993 to 1996. The EMP is the Estado Mayor Presidencial (Presidential Military Staff). The EMP is in charge of interrogation and torture.
The following is from pg. 307 of Francisco Goldman’s THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER, published by Grove Press in 2007: “General Otto Pérez Molina represented the military during the Peace Accords negotiations. He was one of the principal architects of the amnesty. In 1996, the year the accords were signed, the New York Times reported that in the early 1990s, when then Colonel Pérez Molina was the head of Military Intelligence, he’d ordered the murder of the captured guerrilla Efraín Bámaca. He issued the orders after Bámaca’s wife, the American lawyer Jennifer Harbury, had begun a highly publicized campaign to pressure the United States and Guatemalan governments to reveal her husband’s whereabouts. Nevertheless, in 1998, during Arzú’s presidency, Pérez Molina was appointed the Guatemalan delegate to the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington, DC. A few nights after Bishop Gerardi’s murder, Perez Molina had dinner in Guatemala City with Jean Arnault, the UN Mission chief. Arnault told Rafael Guillamón that he was struck by the general’s stony reticence when the subject of the murder was raised.”
Now let us examine a key chapter in the bloody history of the Guatemalan military. We need for you to get an idea of what your enemies are capable. This is not Arturo O’Neil you are dealing with here, loyal and patriotic Belizeans. This is the Escuela Politécnica. The following is reproduced from pages 47 to 49 of Virginia Garrard-Burnett’s TERROR IN THE LAND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, published by Oxford University Press in 2010.
“The second salvo in the government’s strategy of invigorated repression took place two years later on January 31, 1980, when the Lucas government ordered the burning of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City as members of the Comité de Unidad Campesino (CUC) were occupying it. Two weeks earlier, indigenous CUC members from the department of El Quiché and a few students from San Carlos University had, with the tacit approval of the Spanish ambassador, stormed and taken over the Spanish Embassy to use it as a platform to publicize a series of political demands. Taking its inhabitants hostage, the occupiers hoped to draw attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in the countryside and to demand their rights to agricultural lands which military officers had recently appropriated for their own use. The occupation of the embassy was, for the most part (though not completely), peaceful and mainly symbolic – Spanish Ambassador Máximo Cajal y López later described his discussions with the occupiers prior to the fire as having transpired ‘with relative tranquility,’ although the CUC declined to release their hostages – but the Guatemalan government refused to negotiate with the protesters or to consider their demands. Instead, Lucas ordered his interior minister, ‘Take them out as you can.’ The police then locked the doors to the building – already blocked by the occupiers from the inside with sofas and other furniture – and attacked with incendiary bombs and grenades.
“With television cameras rolling to capture the occupiers’ cries for help and military police standing guard, soldiers lobbed the bombs into the embassy, quickly – but not quickly enough – killing everyone inside, including the thirty nine protesters, Spanish diplomats, local embassy staff, a former vice president, and the Guatemalan foreign minister, who were all in the building as negotiators. The police finally allowed a single fire truck with leaky hoses on the scene, but only after the screaming in the building had finally died out. One of the CUC organizers, Gregorio Yujá Xoná, survived the fire, badly burned, and was taken to the hospital. Shortly therefore, desconocidos (unknown men) kidnapped him from his hospital bed; later, bystanders found his disfigured and lifeless body dumped on the San Carlos University campus. The government’s intended message was lost on no one: Guatemalans could from that point on expect their government to meet public dissent with merciless and overwhelming violence.
“The Spanish Embassy burning, in many people’s minds, marked a new nadir. Of it, political scientist George Black writes, ‘If Panzós had been a turning point for the Indians, the Spanish Embassy massacre killed off any flickering hope of peaceful protest.’ Guatemalan writer Arturo Arias has described the tragedy as ‘a definitive watershed for most Indians.’ Arias continues, ‘ For them, there were now no options left other than to join the popular war being waged against the reactionary regime. And, from that date on, a latent state of massive insurrection against the state began in both the central highlands and the northwest.’ Certainly, the Spanish Embassy fire seared political consciousness into an indigenous teenager named Rigoberta Menchú, whose father was among the CUC leaders incinerated that day in 1980.
“With the burning of the Spanish Embassy, the government had met (relatively) peaceful protest with overwhelming and unnecessary force, and had, for the second time in two years, shown its willingness to kill indigenous political organizers who had tried to publicize land tenure and human rights issues. In burning the embassy, the government also demonstrated its utter disregard for international censure by killing foreign diplomats and even Guatemala’s own civilian government officials. The embassy fire seemed to signal a new level of repression, and perhaps desperation, as government policy slipped readily from assassination to mass murder. The brutality of the Spanish Embassy burning, coming as it did relatively on the heels of the Panzós massacre, seemed to signal a rising panic on the part of the government. The Lucas administration’s egregious disregard for human rights earned Guatemala international condemnation and further underscored the United States’ decision to suspend aid to Guatemala, a sanction that the Carter administration had made earlier on the basis of Guatemala’s abysmal human rights record. But the government’s extreme and excessive reaction at both Panzós and the Spanish Embassy failed to sufficiently intimidate the Guatemalan populace.
“Within days of the fire, in early February 1980, indigenous leaders convened at the ruins of Iximché, the center of the ancient Kakchikel kingdom. Though clandestine, leaders from nearly every ethnic group attended the meeting, where they jointly crafted a manifesto known as the Declaration of Iximché. In this declaration, they denounced the embassy holocaust as the last straw of ‘more than four centuries of discrimination, negation, repression, exploitation and massacres made by foreign invaders and continued unto the present day by their most savage and criminal descendants.’”