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Guatemala: "total War At The Grassroots Level"

Guatemala: "total War At The Grassroots Level" image
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Unlike El Salvador (or Nicaragua before the Sandanista revolution), the Guatemalan military is not the subservient defender of the oligarchy. It views itself as a full partner in Guatemala's development; it has major business interests including a bank and a televisión station ... Almost entirely ignored by the mainstream press, Guatemala continúes to suffer the ef fects of a prolonged counterinsurgency war. Since the U.S. backed military coup in 1954, life for the people of Guatemala has become a seemingly endless tragedy. Hopes and desires are crushed by an unjust social structure and a military apparatus of barbarie proportions. The counterinsurgency approach, developed by the U.S. government in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and employed by the Guatemalan army, concentrates not on the traditional military objectives of battling armies and holding terrritory, but seeks to control civilian populations through a combination of military, economie, ideological, and psychological pressure. Central to this type of warfare is the pacification of the population (the "hearts and minds" approach). This includes the simplification of issues to an EastWest geopolitical struggle, the creation of a climate of terror through paramilitary forces, the integration of economie development programs, large-scale intelligence gathering, an emphasis on local military forces (instead of U.S. forces), and most importantly, a commitment to long term involvemenL Since the counterinsurgency approach appears to be less destructive üian conventional warfare or nuclear exchanges, the strategy is also called "low intensity conflict. "The outward signs of this strategy in Guatemala are the military zones of control with their strategie hamlets, mandatory civilian patrols, and re-education camps. It was perhaps more accurately described by one of its leading theoreticians, Colonel John Waghelstein, as "total war at the grassroots level." Guatemala' s military plays a fundamentally different role in society than the other armies in Central America. Unlike El Salvador (or Nicaragua before the Sandinista revolution), the Guatemalan military is not the subservient defender of the oligarchy. It views itself as a full partner in Guatemala' s development, it has major business interes ts including a bank and a televisión station, and it identif ies itself as the trustee of Guatemalan nationalism - an almost Messianic responsibility to keep total control of social insiitutions in the hands of the elite and the officer corps (it is important to distinquish between the officers and enlisted soldiers, often from poor backgrounds, who simply carry out orders). With these powerful vested interests in mind, it has waged a war on its own people so brutal that for the period from 1978 through the early 1980's, approximately 100,000 Guatemalans have been killed and over one million citizens displaced. The scale of this holocaust made Guatemala somewhatof an international pariah. lts economy bcgan to suffer from the damage of the war, foreign assistance was reduced, and its tourist industry nearly collapsed. Recognizing the damage caused by this isolation, the senior military command promoted elections in 1985 which were won by Vinicio Cerezo. The appearance of democracy was intended to lend Guatemala international credibility and shift attention from the atrocities committed by the military. With predictablerapidity, financial assistance began flowing into Guatemala ($150 million in 1987 in direct U.S. aid alone), and international attention focused on the ability of the Cerezo government to "turn the country around." Even though Cerezo may have promoted a series of political openings unheard of even five years ago, he has not achieved substantive change. Indeed, he has most clearly stated what he would not do - prosecute the guilty for past atrocities, investígate disappearances, or initiate land reform. He has merely put a democratie face o a country where the structure of power has been solidly established for 40 years. In doing so he has paved the way for the recent counterinsurgency strategy. The major challenge faced by the arrny loday is keeping the population under control while not letting the war expand to the ex tent dut it disiupts use ful economie gains. The failcd coup attempt in mid May by junior offices in the Guatcmalan military underscores the continuing tensión within the counterinsurgency government. The military command cannot agree on how to appcar democratie while continuing a difficult and protracted war against a seasoned insurgency. The younger, more militant junior officers who direct the war in the field are frustrated with the lack of success against guerrilla forces. They have allicd with the more conservative elements of the business sector who greatly fear the expansión of popular organizations of pcasants and unionists. Fearing that the political openings promoted by Cerezo and senior officers may dangerousry loosen the military 's hold on society, the junior officers led t wo battalions to the capital in an attempt to rally other troops to their cause. When key units in the capita! failed to respond, the coup attempt was aborted and the troops returned to their posts in the field. So the violencc continúes. It occurs in both massive brutal spasms and creeping sclective disappearances. The costs in human terms have been enormous. At long last, after the temible period in late 1 982 where over 1 5,000 people were massacred, international human rights organizations have begun to focus significant altention on Guatemala. Additionally, the Group of Mutual Support (GAM) has been formed by relatives of the disappeared in Guatemala and demands that the disappeared be returned. Although they have not met with success, they represent an important challenge to the government for its acquiescence to the military. Guatemala has not gone unnoticed by all U.S. citizens. In five recent workshops (sponsored by NISGU A, the National Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) a belief emerged that the Arias Peace Plan has created opportunilies to bring the situation under greater international scrutiny. The application of the Arias Peace Plan would be a remarkable step for Guatemala since it would allow for negotiatons between the confiicting parties and an examination of the causes of the crisis. The military rejects this prospect, and has stated that the Peace Plan does not apply to them. It is up to citizens in the U.S. and throughout the world to exposé the brutal practices of the Guatcmalan military, to pressure forcign govemments to cut off aid to the feigned "democratie" regime, and to push for solutions to the crisis in Guatemala.


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