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Confronting the question of justice in Guatemala.

They took me to a house. I was left sitting there for over two hours,

and I could hear people screaming in other rooms. Handcuffed, they

forced me to unless. They tied my feet together and hung me upside

down. Then they hit me with an ax handle while accusing me of belonging

to a revolutionary organization. From the beginning, the torturers

identified themselves as kaibiles [Guatemalan elite troops

trained in counterinsurgency]. They told me that with the treatment I

would tell them everything I knew. They took turns beating me, and

if they were smoking, they would put out their cigarettes on my

body.... [Later] they gave me electric shocks. The violent contractions

of one's body and the way it bangs against the wall are


-- Excerpted from testimony of Alvaro Rene Sosa Ramos, Guatemalan trade union leader, abducted in 1984.(1)

THE EXPERIENCE OF ALVARO RENE SOSA RAMOS WAS, AND IS, RARE IN Guatemala, where the overwhelming majority of those who are "disappeared" never reappear alive. His experience is also instructive, for it demonstrates a crucial fact about Guatemala's horrific human rights violations: they are not the work of out-of-control death squads, as is often claimed by the government. Rather, such violations are planned at the highest levels of the military, which directs a massive, well-organized, and clandestine system of repression. This system is preserved via the impunity -- freedom from legal sanction or accountability -- enjoyed by the violators of human rights.

Guatemala is starkly different from other former national security states such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, where the transition to civilian rule largely curbed widespread and systematic political repression. In Guatemala, the two successive civilian governments since the transition in 1986 have been unwilling or unable to control the apparatus of state terror or diminish the militarization of state and society. Although the level of human-rights crimes lessened in 1986, the first year of Vinicio Cerezo's administration, by 1987 more and more tortured bodies of campesinos, teachers, unionists, church workers, and others were again appearing in ravines and city streets. Today, under President Jorge Serrano, levels are as high as during the last years of military rule.

Meanwhile, a 1991 UNICEF report notes that nearly half the population of 9.3 million (some 70% of which is Mayan Indian) lacks health services, 32 children die every day from diarrhea and intestinal diseases, 76% of all children under five suffer from malnutrition, and the mortality rate for children under five is "the world's highest." About half of all national income in Guatemala is concentrated in the upper 10% of the population.(2) These social facts graphically illustrate that the political economy imposed by the military and subsequent civilian governments is a failure for most of the population. For this reason, even extreme repression has not managed to quell stubborn resistance, exemplified by Guatemala's burgeoning popular organizations and by its 30-year-old insurgent movement. Guatemala is also unique because of its Mayan majority, which is claiming its cultural rights and demanding equality. The increasingly self-conscious and militant indigenous populations are a driving force within Guatemala's mobilized civil society.

In Guatemala, as in other states where military regimes have used terror as a political instrument of social control, the transition to civilian rule has generated widespread public demands for accountability. Yet of all the former national security states, only in Argentina have there been trials of those who orchestrated and carried out the "dirty war" -- and with his 1989 and 1990 pardons, President Menem reversed the convictions for mass murder and torture that had resulted.(3) In Guatemala, where over 120,000 persons have been murdered and more than 42,000 disappeared (the highest proportions of the population in any Latin American country), in only one recent case have military officers been convicted of human rights crimes.(4 )

Impunity has functioned as a shield to protect the repressive apparatus in Guatemala and to perpetuate the dominant social and political order (installed via the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup). Impunity allows the continuation of a state policy of terror as a political weapon; it serves to protect individual torturers and murderers in the military, who often continue to occupy high-ranking posts in civilian government. We have categorized three dimensions of impunity, to be analyzed in this article. Structural impunity means mechanisms and structures, institutionalized and legalized in the state, that serve to protect those who abuse state power -- a judicial system of military courts, for example. We define strategic impunity as active measures taken by state officials at specific moments, whether laws, decrees, amnesties, or pardons, to derail processes of or demands for truth and justice. Another manifestation of strategic impunity is a form of complicity between the civilian regime and the security forces, where civilian leaders publicly defend repressive measures or military forces that carry them out, repeat and legitimize army disinformation, or attack human-rights advocates or those who demand accountability. Political/psychological impunity is another dimension of impunity resulting from state terror, by which political options in a polity are restricted and controlled through the state's manipulation of fear in the population; citizens' fear of state terror is exploited to maintain the status quo.

Terror as a Political Instrument

E.V. Walter's classic 1969 study on political terror contains helpful insights for understanding the manipulation of fear by state elites as a means of controlling society and maintaining power. Walter shows that terror is used to engineer compliant behavior not only in the victims, but also in a target population, e.g., society in general. He posits that terror is used to enforce social integration and subservience and to eliminate potential power contenders. Walter points out that systematic terror is one way -- the most cruel and inhuman way - humanity has found to escape the eternal problems of unity and division, distribution and justice.

Walter emphasizes that terror by the state has "regular structural features ... [namely] the connection between terror, the possibilities of resistance, and crises of social integration" (p. xii). He thus strikes at the political essence: power relations and the role of terror in the service of power. In a system of terror, the state seeks to involve everyone in society either as victim or perpetrator. This type of system of terror coincides and coacts with systems of authority and is directed by those who already control the ordinary institutions of power. In the Guatemalan case, the military has used such a principle most obviously in its Civil Patrol system, where virtually all men in the countryside (up to one million mostly indigenous males) have been forcibly recruited for unpaid duty for the army. The Civil Patrols ensure the army's control over the population; overall, their purpose is to prevent community support for the insurgent movement and to control the "sea" in which the revolutionary "fish" swim. Members of the Civil Patrols are forced to spy on their own Mayan communities, thus disrupting traditional ties, to act as the front lines against guerrilla attack, to keep "order" through intimidation, and to perform unpaid labor on construction projects and road building to advance military counterinsurgency projects.

Walter shows that the rulers of a system of terror "consciously design a pattern of violence to produce the social behavior they demand" (p. 9). This type of terror involves three actors: a source of violence, a victim, and a target. The last two are not the same. The victim is killed (or tortured, or disappeared), but the target who sees reacts with some form of submission or accommodation. This insight again makes clear the political purpose of the state terror practiced by the national security states of Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s: the goal was to terrorize people into submission, and ultimately, to preserve (or install) a particular political and socioeconomic order. As Walter notes, the process of violence is directed not to destruction: the proximate end is to instill terror and the ultimate end is control (p. 13).

Walter argues that the elimination of an entire class may be attempted in some cases, giving the example of a king attempting to eliminate a rival aristocracy. However, if "the resisters are food producers who cannot be eliminated as a class because they are indispensable ... [violence] is used to keep them in control..." (p. 15). Later, he shows how the system of terror was used in the Zulu kingdom to prevent or destroy "latent drives toward independence on the part of chiefs or wealthy men" (p. 198), thereby forcing social integration and unity while simultaneously taking preventive action against potential rivals. In Guatemala, these points are relevant. Because the economic structure of Guatemala is built upon the superexploitation of the Mayan majority (as it has been since the Spanish conquest), the army (backed by the dominant classes) cannot destroy it completely, although its repression has at times been of genocidal proportions. Rather, the army's pervasive system of terror is aimed to control that population and to preempt a revolutionary resistance that would disrupt the entrenched oligarchic system. Later, we will examine why in Guatemala the army's terror has not succeeded in accomplishing this goal.

Walter points out that power resides not only in the capacity to alter patterns of behavior, but also to prevent them in the first place (p. 37). This is clearly the aim of systematic terror, and corresponds to the dimension of impunity we have called political/psychological. One is reminded of Gramsci's thesis, further developed by Robert Cox (1981), that hegemony, domination by means of the consent or habit of the dominated, is less costly for elites than is domination by coercion. Cox holds that coercion is applied when hegemony fails and a threat arises to a given order with its particular power relations. Hegemony, which is internalized within the dominated, results from ideological control or a sense of hopelessness. In a situation of hegemony, domination appears to be the inevitable order of things; costly methods of coercion become less necessary. Impunity for those who have tormented society serves to perpetuate this form of domination. Those who have been terrorized tend to curtail their hopes and aspirations for significant change when the perpetrators of the violence continue to wield power under civilian regimes.

One of Walter's key theses is that states (kings in his case) use systematic terror to resolve crises of social integration. Violence and apparent irrationality can be organizing principles in the expansion or integration of the state (p. 257). This approach has clear theoretical implications for modem terrorist states. In Guatemala, terror by the state has been a means of forcibly integrating the majority Indian population within a highly unequal and dependent form of capitalist development, where the rights of the majority are violated daily. Repression has been the means of maintaining the power of the small Ladino oligarchy for centuries; in the past 20 years, many former or present high-ranking army officers have themselves become landowners and industrialists, thereby joining this class. In the Southern Cone, terror was used both to eliminate urban guerrilla movements and to forcibly integrate dissenting and rebellious sectors of society, particularly workers and intellectuals, into the army-defined national project. Indeed, the national-security doctrines of Latin American armies emphasize national unity as a key principle, symbolized by the army; the army is the single will, the defining entity of the nation.

In this context, impunity may be seen as an element in systems of terror that perpetuate abusive sociopolitical orders. Impunity is a central pillar of systems of repression; if the perpetrators can be condemned and held accountable to civil society, the system begins to crumble. Conversely, military institutions and individual murderers and torturers may continue to act outside the law if impunity is upheld by civilian governments. The apparatus of repression remains intact; the military institutions continue to wield significant autonomous political and coercive power.

The Case of Guatemala

The post-world War II history of Latin America illustrates the dialectical relationship between coercion and hegemony in the international context. During the 1950s and 1960s, the political and economic influence of the preponderant power in the hemisphere -- the United States -- grew throughout the world. As U.S. transnational corporations extended their reach, promotion and protection of U.S. corporate interests (and the system of capitalism itself) were intertwined with national security objectives, obtained through coercion when "necessary" in the eyes of the U.S. government and the Pentagon. This often meant CIA destabilization operations or direct U.S. military interventions to get rid of nationalist or socialist governments.(5) Today, we seem to have entered a period of hegemony, where the values and institutions of capitalism and liberalism promoted by the United States are widely accepted (at least by governing elites).

After World War 11, the U.S. government and the Pentagon promoted counterinsurgency doctrines and training in the Army School of the Americas in Panama and other facilities, where thousands of Latin American officers underwent training. These courses emphasized national security and capitalist development (to undercut the appeal of socialism) in Latin America, especially after the shock of the Cuban Revolution. In Guatemala, as is well known, protection of the interests of the United Fruit Company merged with the U.S. government's national security (anticommunist) objectives in the early 1950s. The 1954 CIA-backed invasion overturned the country's 10-year democratic experiment and ushered in a series of repressive military regimes. The newly won rights of the workers and peasants were overturned and the oligarchy's grip on politics and the economy were reimposed. United Fruit got back all its lands and U.S. interests won other major concessions. According to State Department Bulletin No. 6465, April 1, 1957, the accomplishments of the counterrevolutionary coup were grouped under these headings:

1. The conclusion of an agreement with a United Fruit Company subsidiary providing for the return of property expropriated by the Arbenz government.

2. The repeal of the law affecting remittances and taxation of earnings from foreign capital.

3. The signing of an Investment Guarantee Agreement with the United States.

4. The promulgation of a new and more favorable petroleum law (in O'Connor, 1970:138).

As Alain Rouquie has noted, national security coincided with the laws of capitalism and the new international division of labor. The role of the militaries was to defend the global system of capitalism and their own particular capitalist regimes (Rouquie, 1987: 75; Rial, 1990). In the case of Guatemala (as in others where coups imposed authoritarian military states), an extreme form of coercion was necessary to subjugate the people and ensure the predominance of a particular political and social order. The extreme violence of the repression in Guatemala has reflected the fear held by the ruling classes that the memory of the 1944-1954 revolution will continue to inspire the people (which is in fact the case).(6) Second, the severity of the repression has reflected the fact that since 1960, a mass-based revolutionary movement has existed in Guatemala, which has been temporarily put down twice, only to rise up again. It is a movement that poses a threat to the domination of the military and ruling elites.

The Guatemalan state, which came under the control of the army as an institution in the 1960s, essentially declared war on both the insurgent movement and vast sectors of the population, particularly the Mayan communities in the countryside. The state has acted with savage efficiency to wipe out popular leaders and dissidents, especially after 1979. In the early 1980s, just as President Reagan was lobbying to restore military aid, the generals carried out genocidal policies against the indigenous population, including the complete destruction of more than 440 Indian villages and numerous massacres of their inhabitants. Jorge Serrano, the current president, held the position of President of the Council of State then (the highest civilian post), when General Efrain Rios Montt headed the military regime.

The military has used all the resources of the state to carry out its repressive policies. All branches of the armed forces, security forces, and associated paramilitary groups have been used; clandestine units have been organized in the guise of death squads. A vast network of secret detention facilities, chambers of torture, and clandestine cemeteries was set up in the country; vehicles, communications, computer systems, and the like (provided by the U.S. and, after 1977, with Israeli assistance) allowed a sophisticated level of operation. This repressive apparatus continues to operate. Agents of repression have unrestricted access to buildings, roads, and properties, with guarantees that no authority, civilian or military, will interfere with their actions. This is structural impunity, protecting the capacity of an all-powerful state to act against essentially helpless victims who have been declared enemies of the state. Abductions or assassinations may occur any time during the day or night, at home, at work, on routes to school or work, in church, or anywhere in the country -- despite civilian government.

For example, NISGUA quotes various human rights groups and Guatemalan press services who report that in 1991, there were 764 extrajudicial executions, 83 disappearances, and 98 cases of torture reported in Guatemala.(7) Trade unionists were subject to particular repression, with more than 20 leaders forced into exile due to death threats last year. Further, 21 popular-movement leaders were murdered in 1991. It is important to note that human-rights organizations do not report cases without full documentation. Consequently, their numbers tend to be very conservative, as many terrorized friends and family members are afraid to give information. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA also reports that there were three large-scale massacres in 1991.(8) In the last, nine villagers (including four children) were hacked to death with machetes in Baja Verapaz; at least one of the suspects is a former member of military intelligence (G2). Today, despite the transition to civilian rule in many Latin American countries, the persistence of impunity means that the boundaries of the politically possible are sharply delimited by fear of the military's reaction (the political/psychological dimension). In Guatemala, a number of measures have been taken to guarantee that no investigation or prosecution of military/security offenders will ever take place. The executive branch of government acts to sidetrack investigations and prosecution; it withholds information; it defends the military in public pronouncements. The military and its crimes are literally untouchable.

Impunity in Guatemala: The Structural Dimension

Structural means of impunity will be examined first, particularly focusing upon Guatemala's 1985 Constitution, and the system of military courts. At first glance, the 1985 Constitution might appear very advanced in terms of a legal framework that protects human rights. All important rights and freedoms are unequivocally recognized and the prevalence of international law over domestic law is guaranteed. Some important mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights are established. However, this Constitution also continues to be the legal basis for the national-security doctrine and ideology, implemented by the army for three decades; it gives the army the role of guaranteeing external and internal security and puts the entire state under the hegemony of the army.

The Constitution validates all military acts and legalizes all decrees during the years of military governments and up to the first day of civilian government. This encompasses crimes against humanity and what would be called war crimes had the victims been of another nationality. One of the laws specifically upheld by the Constitution is Decree 8-86, approved three days before the official transition to civilian government in 1986 (an example of strategic impunity that has now become institutionalized). Decree 8-86 was a self-amnesty imposed by the military regime that liberated all military violators of human rights from legal responsibility. Attempts by opposition parties in Congress to repeal Decree 8-86 were derailed by the Christian Democrats, who broke the quorum by literally walking out; Christian Democratic President Cerezo also affirmed that he would not act to repeal the decree.

Another example of structural impunity is the system of military tribunals in Guatemala, which essentially serve to protect military criminals from civilian claims. These tribunals exercise jurisdiction not only over military transgressions and crimes (rebellion, desertion, or abuses of power within the military institution), but also over crimes within civil society, including common crimes. For instance, the killing of a family member by an army officer or the death of a civilian in a car accident where a military man was driving will go to the military courts, and not to a civilian trial. Not surprisingly, legal sanctions rarely correspond to the degree of the offense. These tribunals routinely fail to act in cases of violations of human rights, or violations of international humanitarian law, including attacks on noncombatant civilian populations in areas of conflict, or the torture and murder of prisoners. The Guatemalan military explicitly rejects the notion that it is answerable to the Geneva Conventions and Protocols, such as the Geneva Convention Relating to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and the Geneva Convention Relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949); the army usually kills those it captures in battle, despite repeated United Nations resolutions insisting that the Guatemalan state respect humanitarian law and international norms. Finally, in areas where the military occupies the countryside, even arrest orders issued by Guatemalan civil courts for individuals who have tortured or murdered noncombatant citizens are routinely ignored. In one such case, the head of the Civil Patrol in the village of San Antonio Sinache, Delfino Pascual, has been wanted by the Second Court of the First Penal Instance of El Quiche for assassinating campesinos in front of their families in 1982. Although an arrest warrant is outstanding, police authorities look the other way when Pascual visits the region weekly.(9)

In sum, the rule of law does not apply in Guatemala to crimes against humanity or politically motivated crimes carried out by military/security forces, nor even to common crimes where military and security personnel are involved. This situation led a Harvard University team, which advised the Guatemalan judiciary for three years after the transition from military to civilian rule, to terminate its program in 1990. The team's conclusion was that there was no possibility of improving the legal system if the political will to halt human-rights violations did not exist in the government. Dr. Philip Heymann, director of Harvard's Law School Center for Criminal Justice, said that after the United States and others had "provided millions and millions of dollars to improve the administration of justice," the failure to prosecute human-rights atrocities "is plainly a failure of political will, not a failure of capacity."(10)

Police and security personnel also systematically persecute street children in Guatemala City, who are not politically involved. Dozens of reports of torture, rape, mutilation, and murder of these children have appeared in the press.(11) This practice serves to reemphasize the message that the forces of authority are all-powerful and that lawlessness and terror prevail and cannot be stopped. It further demonstrates the protofascist social attitudes of the security forces (which are controlled by the army), who regard the street children -- many of whom fled the countryside after the army killed their parents -- as an unwanted and expendable sector to be "cleaned up" and eliminated. Some of the protectors of the children, such as teachers and counselors in Casa Alianza, have also been threatened or attacked.

Other evidence suggests that members of the army and security forces have unleashed a wave of common crime committed by groups protected by them, encouraging a deeper climate of lawlessness. Criminals have learned that common crimes, for personal aggrandizement, can be camouflaged by making them appear political, thus frightening the family and friends of victims so that they will not pursue the case. A recent example is that of two French citizens, who were tortured and killed in December 1991. They were buried in a public cemetery because no one identified them.(12) As often happens in Guatemala, it is impossible to tell whether they were killed for political reasons, or killed during a robbery or other common crime made to look like a political assassination.

In short, the system of justice in Guatemala is itself a victim of the climate of intimidation and terror that pervades society. Judges and their families have often been targets of death threats and assassinations; in other cases, judges have been led into corrupt practices. Some have left the country or abandoned their positions, disrupting fledgling criminal investigations. Compounding the difficulty, proofs and evidence have been destroyed, and witnesses or indicted persons have been threatened or killed when investigations have been attempted in Guatemala. Several years ago, the President of the Judiciary, Edmundo Vasquez Martinez, asserted that all investigations stopped at the doors of the military barracks. This continues to be true and this impunity has even expanded to other sites where powerful army-related structures exist or the legacy of military terror is evident. For example, in summer 1991, an international team of forensic experts was working in Guatemala to exhume and identify the remains of persons dumped in mass graves in the countryside. They found the remains of 30 indigenous peasants near Chontala and expected to discover 80 more, believed to be victims of the massacres in the early 1980s. However, continued death threats against the forensic experts by armed men forced some team members to leave the country.(13)

In summary, structural impunity breeds corruption of the justice system in any country; Guatemala is an extreme case because intolerable levels of violence continue to obstruct any attempt to seek justice. Immunity from prosecution spreads to all crimes in Guatemala, even common crimes, contributing to a greater climate of chaos and fear. Impunity and terror form a vicious circle: intimidation breeds impunity and impunity breeds more terror.

Strategic Impunity in Guatemala

Examples of strategic measures of impunity are abundant in Guatemala. This section of the article will examine the historic responsibility of the two civilian administrations in Guatemala for the perpetuation of impunity. Vinicio Cerezo, who was elected president in 1985 with a strong popular mandate as the most credible challenger to military policies, proved to be a bitter disappointment for Guatemalans as well as the international humanrights community. As we have seen, he refused to spend his enormous political capital after the 1985 election to repeal Decree 8-86 or try to curb the army's power. Even the U.S. State Department grew increasingly critical of Cerezo after U.S. citizen Michael Devine was found tortured and beheaded in Guatemala in 1990. In September 1990, the Bush administration threatened to cut military aid if the case were not fully investigated and prosecuted. A private investigator found evidence of army involvement: a white pickup truck used by Devine's killers was assigned to the local army base (this was confirmed the U.S. Embassy). A "senior Senate aide" told the New York Times that the apparent involvement of an army intelligence unit in the murder indicated a drug connection; he added that Devine might have found evidence of army involvement in the growing of poppies for heroin production (Krauss, 1990a). Under heavy U.S. pressure, the Army's Chief of Intelligence in El Peten, Captain Hugo Roberto Contreras Alvarado, was arrested and accused of the crime(14) -- yet his case was brought to a military court, which freed him.(15)

In January 1989, Cerezo's first adjunct Human Rights Ombudsman, Arturo Martinez Galvez, resigned his post after his attempts to investigate the El Aguacate massacre of November 1988 were thwarted by the government. He charged: "I was prevented from seeing certain documentation related to this.... We went two or three times to the site, but they were mediocre, very superficial investigations that had no chance to get close to the truth."(16) The El Aguacate massacre was blamed by Cerezo and the army on a guerrilla unit, a story widely disbelieved in Guatemala and abroad; several investigations carried out by international human-rights organizations found evidence strongly pointing to the army.(17) In December 1991, the only survivor of the El Aguacate massacre, Baldomero Callejas, was murdered. He had been abducted by military intelligence agents in early 1991, after giving testimony in a Guatemalan court.(18)

Meanwhile, the former commander of the military zone that includes El Aguacate, General Jose Luis Quilo Ayuso, was named Vice Minister of Defense on January 2, 1992. He was also the prosecutor responsible for exonerating the officers accused of murdering Michael Devine.(19)

In March 1990, Americas Watch accused Cerezo of failing to move against a wave of disappearances, killings, and torture carried out by the army after August of 1989. As one example, the report (entitled "Messengers of Death") cited the surge of killings at the National University of San Carlos, where in a period of about seven months, 14 members of the university community were disappeared and six of these were found dead (others were killed as well). In response to this and other criticisms leveled by Americas Watch, a spokeswoman for Cerezo rejected the group's assessment, commenting: "The army is complying as it should within the democratic framework" (Krauss, 1990b). In February 1989, Cerezo told the Guatemalan press that 90% of reported disappearances were in fact cases of "minors at odds with their parents, or girls running away with boyfriends" or accidents.(20)

The Bush administration temporarily withdrew Ambassador Stroock from Guatemala (for "consultations") in early 1990. In March 1990, a senior (and unnamed) State Department official told the New York Times that Cerezo could do much more" to bring the army under control (Krauss, 1990b).

General Hector Gramajo was widely acknowledged as the de facto ruler of the country during the Cerezo years. Gramajo conspired with the army "palace coup" in 1982 that put Rios Montt into the presidency, and was named Assistant Army Chief of Staff, a post involving decision-making for operations planning, intelligence, logistics, and the military's civic-action projects. He thus shares responsibility for the mass atrocities and scorched-earth policies of that period.(21) In 1983, Gramajo became commander of the Cuartel General army base in Guatemala City, and therefore in charge of the G2 unit of the base. G2, the military intelligence service, is the agency that centrally orchestrates, supervises, and implements the system of repression in Guatemala.(22) Gramajo's command included supervision of one of G2's main clandestine torture centers, within the base. In 1987, the daughter of a prominent family in Guatemala, Deborah Carolina Vasquez, was held and tortured by army agents at this base and released only after international pressure.

Gramajo was named Defense Minister in 1987 and assumed charge of G2 from an office within the presidential palace, where, according to journalist and military expert Alan Nairn, he participated in military decisions regarding which Guatemalan civilians should be eliminated.(23) Gramajo had lofty ambitions. He retired from the army in May 1990 just in time to meet an election requirement for prospective presidential candidates, thus signaling that he intended to run for president of Guatemala in 1995. To further his legitimacy, he secured a scholarship for himself (financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development) at the prestigious John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.(24) Gramajo graduated in June 1991 with a Masters Degree in Public Administration.(25)

In a 1991 interview, Gramajo asserted that the doctrine of national security had been replaced in Guatemala by "the thesis of national stability," of which he was a key author. While this thesis retains many ideological precepts of the national-security doctrine, it purports to be more sophisticated and suited for "democratic rule." For example, the introduction states that the national-security doctrine "couldn't respond to the political and social needs of the nation; it precipitated a crisis within the very institution which had to be more solid and upon which all other institutions depend -- the military..." (Schirmer, 1991). Clearly, even under civilian rule, the military continues to consider itself the central pillar of state and society, according to top officers.

In a somewhat confused declaration, Gramajo told Jennifer Schirmer in this interview that the Guatemalan Army no longer needed to fight external wars (presumably because the Pentagon would assume responsibility for this), while also criticizing U.S. versions of the national-security doctrine and low-intensity-conflict strategy. However, Gramajo asserted, the army was still committed to "maintaining the state and public order" and further, was emphatically not:

renouncing the use of force.... You needn't kill everyone to complete the job. (You can use) more sophisticated means; we aren't going to return to the large-scale massacres.... We have created a more humanitarian, less costly strategy, to be more compatible with the democratic system. We instituted Civil Affairs, which provides development for 70% of the population while we kill 30%. Before, the strategy was to kill 100%.(26)

The fact that such a chilling statement could be openly made by Gramajo reveals the breadth and depth of the impunity that protects the architects of fascist social policies and ideologies. However, Gramajo's carefully laid presidential plans (supported by his sponsors in Washington, D.C.) may have been stymied through the efforts of courageous Guatemalans and human-rights activists based in the United States. The same day he received his degree, Gramajo was sued in a U.S. federal court by nine Guatemalan indigenous people for human-rights violations committed by counter-insurgency troops under his command. The following week, U.S. nun Dianna Ortiz -- who was kidnapped, raped, tortured, and thrown into a pit with cadavers and rats in a clandestine torture center before a man with an American English accent intervened -- sued him for torture, rape, and defamation.(27) After the abduction of Sister Dianna in 1989, Gramajo asserted that the case was an example of a self-kidnaping" or a "lesbian tryst." In response to the charges against him in June 1991, Gramajo declared: "I am a product of the American school. I acted professionally."(28)

During the current term of President Serrano (elected and inaugurated in early 1991), and as peace negotiations demanded by the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) have gained increasing support and international backing, Guatemala has suffered escalating human-rights violations, clearly promoted by sectors unwilling to compromise. Amilcar Mendez, a leader of CERJ, an organization that advocates the constitutional rights of the Mayan campesinos, has been the target of increasingly vicious death threats and well-orchestrated campaigns of innuendo and slander. President Serrano himself accused him of being a subversive -- a death sentence in Guatemala.(29) An assassination that became the subject of an international outcry is the case of anthropologist Myrna Mack, who was brutally knifed to death in 1990. The Chief of the Homicide Section of the National Police, who was investigating the murder and who presented a preliminary report implicating high military officers, was himself murdered in 1991. Another case is that of Anson Ng Yong, a British Financial Times journalist who was investigating army ties to the Bank of Credit and Commerce (BCCI) in Guatemala. He reportedly found evidence of high-ranking army officers' involvement in drug-money laundering. He was murdered in 1991, during Serrano's first year, as well.(30)

President Serrano recently stated:

In 30 years of conflict, many people have been hurt and tremendously

affected, but we don't need to know everything that they have suffered.

What we need to figure out is how to reach peace, how we are

going to reconcile (Christian, 1991). Serrano, who has been close to sectors of the military for years, echoes the words of other new civilian regimes (the examples of Uruguay, Brazil, and currently El Salvador come to mind), which press for reconciliation rather than any process of truth and justice.31 Such an attitude is heavily weighted with cynicism when the state and military have such a transparent self-interest in avoiding responsibility. Such attempts to impose official amnesia upon the population perpetuate authoritarian methods of social control and intimidation.

Impunity in Guatemala: The Political/Psychological Dimension

The political/psychological dimension of impunity is perhaps the most poignant and tragic of all aspects of impunity, for it serves to truncate the aspirations and possibilities imagined by the affected populations, thus shaping the political environment of a country. If people believe there can be no justice, they resign themselves to political realities, adapt, and adjust in order to survive. The limits of "democratization" are thus imposed by the military, whose freedom of action is insured by the impunity it enjoys. Participation by the popular sectors -- exactly what the elites and the militaries have acted to prevent in the past -- is restricted. Impunity serves to perpetuate the reign of terror and silence, preempting demands for greater social equality and justice.

Yet impunity has failed to enforce complete apathy in Guatemala, nor to permanently demobilize the population. Why? While the population's lives are undoubtedly shaped by fear,(32) the popular movements have expanded in recent years, taking advantage of every crack in the political vise of the army to organize and agitate for their rights. In spite of continuing terror and repression, new grass-roots organizations have formed: CERJ, the organization opposing the Civil Patrols and forced conscription by the army; CONAVIGUA, the organization of widows and orphans; GAM, the organization of relatives of the disappeared; CONDEG, the organization of displaced persons; the Communities in Resistance, indigenous communities living in the highlands who refuse to submit to the model villages; and others. Significantly, the majority of the leaders and participants in most of these organizations are indigenous women. Moreover, militant unions such as STINDE, the university student organization AEU, and the umbrella organization UASP (Unity of Labor and Popular Action) have continued to press for their demands. What can explain this?

While a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this article, a few observations may be made. First, in Guatemala, where conditions are truly intolerable, people have seen no alternative left but to fight, on many levels. Peaceful methods were answered with massacres, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture by the government in the 1960s and 1970s; it was a time when many joined the armed resistance. Today, Guatemalans have taken advantage of the limited political space available under civilian government to organize in new ways.

Second, the historical memory of the 10 years of democracy cannot be obliterated. Third, the Mayan majority of Guatemala has refused to be incorporated, despite overwhelming abuse, instead maintaining its culture and traditions. Fourth, the existence of the insurgent movement, in spite of setbacks and severe repression, has symbolized an alternative of social justice and equality the army has been unable to destroy.

The fact that the guerrillas have not been defeated by the most sophisticated counterinsurgency army in the hemisphere is indication of their tenacity and their social support. The insurgency represents a contending power to the traditional alliance of the army, the oligarchy, big industrialists, and U.S. interests, and their model of development. As a power contender, the insurgency and its supporters are not equal in power to these forces. However, the insurgents may be able to force the government and army to accept a form of power-sharing, as the Salvadoran FMLN achieved in its peace negotiations, especially if the weight of U.S. power shifts from its traditional allies to support for a negotiated solution (more on the U.S. role below).

Juan Corradi, in an article summarizing a 1981-1982 Social Science Research Council Seminar on the Culture of Fear, sheds light on the sources of social resistance to state terror and dictatorship. Individuals in societies facing severe repression, he explains, often respond with deep and intense commitments to alternate values. Resistance -- from jokes with dangerous double meanings, to actually joining the armed opposition -- becomes a daily occurrence.

The sense of excitement and of participation generated under such conditions contrasts with ... the spirit of hopelessness and impotence that prevails among those who have adapted to official definitions in an authoritarian regime. Therefore, an indispensable part of the study of fear should be the examination of the processes by which the sense of inevitability is conquered, i.e., the examination of dynamic factors in culture, social structure, and personality, that put, as Barrington Moore, Jr., has suggested, "iron in the soul" (Corradi, 1987).

Corradi goes on to name these processes, which include:

the emergence of cultures of solidarity that comprise opposite features

to those that belong to a culture of fear: trust, representation,

consent, etc.... The sources of support in resisting injustice. The

availability of protective "free spaces" under terroristic regimes.... A

basic human drive pushes us to find those moments when the tables

are turned and justice is restored ( Ibid.: 124-125).

As we have seen, impunity denies to those who have suffered the possibility of seeing the tables turned and justice restored. It is for this reason that all the popular organizations in Guatemala have demanded that no impunity be accepted in the current peace negotiations between the URNG and the government.

Corradi's discussion of the sources of resistance to state terror suggests to us that the revolutionary resistance movement in Guatemala, the popular organizations, and the resilient indigenous culture and communities themselves, provide political spaces for actively resisting injustice. As such, these social phenomena embody the seeds of an alternative society and, thus, hope for entirely different way of life for millions of Guatemalans. It is for this reason that these social forces -- which have merged and intertwined since the 1970s -- represent such a threat to the army and the reactionary elites in Guatemala.

The Peace-Seeking Process and Impunity

The internal armed conflict that began in Guatemala in the early 1960s entered a period of intensification at the end of the 1970s. The savage counterinsurgency policies applied by the Lucas Garcia regime closed political spaces and polarized Guatemalan society. Large sectors of the population, including many indigenous communities, were driven into direct participation in the revolutionary organizations after the armed and security forces launched total war against them. The four existing revolutionary organizations -- Ejercito Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP), Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes (FAR), Organizacion del Pueblo en Armas (ORPA), and Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo (PGT) -- were strengthened by the incorporation of peasants, students, workers, slum-dwellers, Christians, teachers, intellectuals, and others.

In January 1982, at the height of their struggle against Lucas Garcia and when his government's collapse was imminent, the four revolutionary organizations joined efforts and formed an alliance under the name of Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca. The revolutionary organizations issued a Fundamental Statement for a new society in the country, which included the following principles (paraphrased):

1. The elimination of all repression and guarantees of the rights to life and peace for all citizens;

2. Meeting the needs of the majority by ending the political domination of the repressive rich, both national and foreign;

3. Guaranteeing equality between indigenous people and Ladinos, and ending cultural discrimination;

4. Creation of a new society guaranteeing participation of all popular and democratic sectors; and

5. A foreign policy of nonalignment and international cooperation.(33) The URNG committed itself to carry on a unified struggle against the ruling sectors of Guatemala, in order to produce fundamental changes in social, economic, and political structures.

From 1982 to 1985, the period in which the army unleashed a campaign of genocide and scorched-earth tactics against the populations in the highlands and instituted military control of these populations, there was no room for even imagining a political solution to the conflict. The regime brutally sought a military victory over the revolutionary movement and the subjugation of the popular sectors of society. Many Guatemalans saw no alternative left but to take up arms, especially after seeing family members and friends tortured, disappeared, and killed.

Conditions changed with the transition from military to civilian government in 1986. The election of Vinicio Cerezo by a large majority of the voters raised expectations that a real shift in power relations might occur. In light of this, the URNG indicated that it perceived a possibility for negotiating a peaceful solution to the social, economic, and political crisis of the Guatemalan state and society. In May 1986, the URNG issued its first communique calling for a dialogue with the government of Guatemala. No positive response was forthcoming, however, and a number of like proposals made by the URNG over the next few months were similarly received.

In August 1987, when the Reagan administration was promoting the contra war (with its underlying threat to invade Nicaragua) and the intensity of the conflict in El Salvador was sharply increasing, the presidents of the five Central American countries signed the Esquipulas II Agreement, which set up a framework for seeking peace in Central America. The agreement called for the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, true democratization, and efforts to seek peace and reconciliation.

In the context of the Esquipulas II Agreement, the Guatemalan government and the URNG met in Madrid in October 1987. However, despite the expectations raised by this meeting both nationally and internationally, the government did not continue the dialogue with the insurgent movement after this first step. The government did comply with an important term of the Esquipulas II Agreement: the formation of the National Reconciliation Commission (CNR), with a mandate to create conditions for ending the internal armed conflict. The URNG approached both the government and the CNR to reactivate a dialogue over the fundamental problems of Guatemalan society and the root causes of the internal armed conflict.

In 1988, the CNR convened a National Dialogue to debate a series of items that addressed the most important problems of Guatemalan society. However, participation of the URNG was prevented by the army, which itself did not participate, and the private-sector elites refused to get involved. Although some important discussions took place, with the participation of popular organizations, organizations in exile, and religious sectors, the National Dialogue could not significantly advance because of the absence of the main actors in Guatemala's power struggle. Moreover, the army reacted violently to the National Dialogue: mutinous sectors initiated three rebellions in 1988 to 1989, which resulted in political concessions by Cerezo and the closing of political spaces for opposition. Some participants in the Dialogue were attacked and killed.

Nevertheless, the demands for a negotiated settlement were gaining momentum. At the end of March 1990, the CNR met with the URNG and signed the ground-breaking Oslo Agreement. Under this agreement, a series of conversations between the URNG and political and social sectors of Guatemalan society were planned, with the purpose of discussing the fundamental problems of the country. The Oslo Agreement provided that, after meeting with the various sectors, the URNG's General Command would meet with a delegation of the Guatemalan government. During 1990, the URNG met in succession with the political parties (Madrid, in May), the private sector (Ottawa, in July), the religious sector (Quito, in September), the popular and democratic sectors (Metepec, in October), and other sectors (Atlixco, in October). This series of meetings allowed the URNG to gather the fundamental opinions and demands of the most important political and social forces in the country. Significantly, the only common demand by all sectors was full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The sectors most affected by repression and terror demanded an end to human-rights violations and the elimination of all forms of impunity.

After several months of uncertainty, due to the election and inauguration of President Serrano, on April 26, 1991, the Guatemala government and the URNG signed the Mexico Agreement, by means of which a procedure and agenda were established for a peace-seeking negotiations process. The agenda contained 11 items, the first being democratization and human rights.

In July, in the context of these peace negotiations, moderated by the Conciliator Monsignor Rodolfo Quezada Toruno and with the participation of a United Nations observer, the URNG was able to obtain the commitment of the government and the army to an unprecedented agreement, called the Queretaro Agreement. The agreement included the following points, which represent a truly revolutionary vision for Guatemala:

"We agree:

1. That the strengthening of a functional and participatory democracy requires:

a. The pre-eminence of civil society;

b. The development of a democratic institutional life;

c. The effective operation of a state of law;

d. The elimination, once and for all, of political repression, electoral fraud and imposition, military threats and pressures, and destabilizing, antidemocratic actions;

e. Unrestricted respect for human rights;

f. The subordination of the functioning of the armed forces to civilian power;

g. Recognition and respect for the identity and rights of the indigenous peoples;

h. The access to and enjoyment of all Guatemalans to the benefits of national production and the resources of nature, based on the principles of social justice;

i. The effective reinsertion of populations displaced by the internal armed conflict;

2. That democratization requires guarantees of direct or indirect participation by civil society in general in the formulation, execution, and evaluation of government policies...."(34)

The fact that members of the government and army signed this statement is certainly astounding. However, given the history and ideology of the Guatemalan military, it seems highly unlikely that its officers' signatures signify sincere acceptance of such a progressive model for society. Thus, continued pressure by the popular sectors in Guatemala and by international actors remains crucial to moving the peace process forward.

While the Bush administration did not play an obvious public role in the peace negotiations, there were indications that it applied pressure on the government and army to negotiate (as it did in El Salvador). It is too early to predict what the new Clinton administration policy will be. In 1992, the Bush administration has been apparently shifting and may be hardening. The Bush administration has sent a series of conflicting signals vis-a-vis Central America, which probably reflected its priorities, namely, Bush's re-election campaign and the continuing U.S. campaign against Cuba (especially in a crucial world arena, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights).

On the one hand, the Bush administration had expressed displeasure, as noted above, over the Guatemalan government's failure to act on human-rights abuses; the United States has suspended military aid to Guatemala since 1990 on human-rights grounds. On the other hand, the visit to Guatemala by Defense Secretary Richard Cheney on February 16, 1992, transmitted a different message. Such a high-level visit signals to the Guatemalan army that its independent military relationship with the Pentagon remains intact, and that the U.S. executive branch values that relationship despite the atrocities of the army. Of course, this is nothing new, historically speaking. Significantly, Cheney commented that there had been "improvements" in Guatemala's human-rights situation.(35) This is particularly striking since Cheney's visit occurred after a surge of violence swept Guatemala in the previous two weeks, including two massacres by the army and assassinations of a university professor, a student leader, and a Franciscan priest. The Guatemalan Archbishop's Human Rights Office issued an urgent communique on February 12 deploring this wave of terror and demanding action.(36)

A second disturbing sign is that the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in January and February 1992 acted, for the first time in two years, to obstruct efforts by Guatemalans, nongovernmental organizations, and Western states to upgrade the seriousness of the case of Guatemala and secure the appointment of a Special Rapporteur.

In short, there were two faces to U.S. policy under Bush. While some positive steps were taken, the administration also maintained its relationship with the Guatemalan military, which the U.S. government has historically seen as the ultimate guarantor of its interests (as in other Third World countries). Ultimately, the continuation of such Cold War policies will prolong the suffering of the people of Guatemala and impede the struggle for democratization.

Early U.S. support for both the Salvadoran and Guatemalan peace negotiations suggested that with the collapse of communism and the political defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua's 1990 election, U.S. policymakers felt less threatened by leftist and popular movements in Central America. The insurgents' acceptance of negotiated solutions in both countries implicitly revealed that they no longer sought or expected revolutionary conquests of state power. It appeared that U.S. policymakers were calculating that the situations could be adequately controlled by reduced armies and via hegemony rather than coercion. A voice for the Left and grass-roots sectors, if channeled through the electoral systems already in place and within the structures of capitalism, would seemingly be tolerated.

The Bush administration made clear its support for the Salvadoran agreements, which include reduction of the military by half (including the five U.S.-trained elite counterinsurgency units), a new military doctrine, important reforms of the judicial and electoral systems, land reform, and other sweeping changes.(37) This seemed a hopeful sign for the Guatemalan process, although the position of the URNG is not as strong as that of the FMLN. Yet more recent actions of the Bush administration implied that it was more ambivalent about the Guatemalan situation. U.S. tolerance for a voice for the Left and popular sectors could possibly change abruptly in any case, if policymakers decide economic, political, or security interests are threatened by changes in the class and power structures of Central America.

Another element is that U.S. policymakers also seem increasingly concerned with reining in politically autonomous and brutal Latin American armies (sectors of which are also involved in drug trafficking), perhaps worried that such armies are no longer sufficiently amenable to U.S. influence. In late 1991, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Crescencio Arcos, said: "Guatemala will see the necessity of curbing its militarism.... Now there is no justification for the armies of the region to continue arming themselves."(38) The case of the Panama invasion may have been an example of a U.S. last-resort reaction to former client armies and generals, perceived to be out of control.

Evidence of the Guatemalan army's opposition to the substance of the Queretaro Agreement surfaced in fall 1991. The second part of item one -- human rights -- has proved to be an insurmountable obstacle as of December 1992. After meetings in July, September, and October 1991 on the issue of human rights, no agreement was reached. In October 1991, the URNG presented to the government an 11-point proposal on human rights that included principles such as the dismantling of the national-security structures (model villages, civil patrols), the repeal of military amnesty, and creation of a Truth and Justice Commission.(39) The process entered into a phase of impasse and new procedures had to be introduced to try to solve the major differences in approaching the issue. Two smaller, private meetings were held in December and January, 1992, without significant progress. Moreover, in January, the Guatemalan government rejected an offer by the Mexican government to mediate the peace talks and involve the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General (Mexico, Venezuela, Spain, and Colombia) in the search for peace. The Group had actively supported the Salvadoran peace process through to the final peace agreement.(40)

One critical factor accounting for the lack of human-rights accords is clearly impunity. The government and the army demand forgiveness and reconciliation. URNG leaders, on the other hand, have emphasized that they cannot betray the Guatemalan people by ignoring their demands for justice and an end to impunity.(41) Thus, Guatemala has become a fundamental case of widespread social and political opposition to impunity.

The Meaning of the "Reconciliation" Approach

Throughout Latin America, at the moment of transition from military to civilian rule, the military and some civilian allies have demanded guarantees that no "revenge" will be taken against them for their policies of repression.(42) "Reconciliation" suddenly becomes the order of the day; those who demand justice are labeled "revanchists" and troublemakers aiming to torpedo the democratization process. (While many international lawyers reject impunity, a current in political science echoes this approach, arguing that cautious and conciliatory steps must be taken in order not to upset the military and dominant economic sectors and insure the transition.)

In a trenchant analysis, James Petras (1989: 85-100) argues:

The military attempts to enter into negotiation with those sectors

whose proposals for "redemocratization" are most consistent with its

orderly retreat" toward a position of power-sharing.... The

"electoral calendar" established by the military becomes a "testing

period" to probe the capacity of their civilian negotiating partners to

uphold the military's "minimum program." It is also a period when

the military hopes to put distance between itself and its "dirty war"

against civilians: the transitional period, it is hoped, will induce amnesia

and reconciliation.

As Petras points out, this process allows the military to protect its prerogatives, avoid accountability for its reign of repression, and further, to enlist the support of a sector of the political class in accomplishing these goals and marginalizing those who demand justice and deeper transformations of state and society. The military spokesmen, suddenly transformed into staunch democrats, insist that impunity is necessary to insure social peace and progress; there is an implied threat in their words. Yet impunity itself embodies a profound threat to democratization, undermining the crucial principles of rule of law, civilian control of the military, and the impartial administration of justice.(43)

Speaking of communist states in 1989, right-wing pundit George Will (1989: 72) wrote: "Social amnesia is a totalitarian objective." The same applies to erstwhile U.S. anticommunist allies in Latin America. Lost in the clamor for reconciliation and oblivion by certain sectors vis-a-via the crimes of the military is the recognition that silence and immunity perpetuate military power over society, and institutionalize fear. The terror of the past is extended into the present and future. impunity is totalitarian in the sense that those who control the collective memory of the past, who impose their view of history, who dictate what can and cannot be discussed, who can commit murder and torture at will with no consequences, can continue to control the present and the future. People's lives and their futures continue to be shaped by fear of the state and by the deadly lessons of the past. This is the legacy of official amnesia: Will's term is a misnomer, for the victims, their families and friends, and large sectors of society cannot forget.(44)

There is profound cynicism inherent in asking the victims of torture and disappearance to become "reconciled" with their tormentors before any process of truth and justice has been carried out. To forgive, there must first be an admission of wrongdoing. However, the military institutions in Latin America continue to insist that their practices as "executioner states"(45) were part of a noble struggle against "subversion." Not only do they refuse to admit to any wrongdoing, the military forces also demand glory and praise from society. In Guatemala, decades of military rule, with its cycles of intense and widespread violence, have afflicted the majority of the population, particularly the indigenous communities, considered inherently subversive by the army. The Guatemalan army's sadistic campaigns reflect depraved indifference to human life and dignity. To ask Guatemalans to "forget" and forego accountability and judgment is truly beyond reason, violating the deepest human feelings of fairness and justice.

In Guatemala, there is a strong element of racism in the demand for reconciliation," given the genocidal policies carried out by the army against the indigenous majority. Such a demand implicitly devalues the thousands of indigenous lives snuffed out in the carnage. It further demands forgiveness for protofascist policies and vindication for their architects and perpetrators. The indigenous population is told to forget the massacres of whole villages and families, and moreover, to continue living under the domination of the same army in "model villages" and "poles of development." Yet no people can be asked to forgive and forget such a holocaust and relinquish their claims to justice. The example of the Jewish community's insistence on justice and accountability for Nazi crimes to this day demonstrates that some horrors can never be simply forgiven and forgotten. One can hardly imagine asking the victims of German concentration camps to be reconciled with the Nazis.

The "reconciliation" ideology serves to perpetuate the status quo, where victims continue to be victims, their rights denied. The former masters of the state continue to wield power, whether directly or through the use of fear as a political weapon. Both aspects, as we have seen, exist in Guatemala. Impunity serves to establish the parameters of acceptable political opposition and social change. The military explicitly draws the lines that cannot be crossed; certainly, legal sanctions and accountability are proscribed.

To call for "reconciliation" without an accounting thus embodies an attempt to obscure power relations between the dominant and subordinated, by positing an implicit equality or equivalence between the state and its victims. Yet there is no equivalence between the state's power and coercive capacity and those of its citizens; additionally, there is no equivalence between the torturers and their victims. The dominant minority demands that the subordinated majority accept certain political facts, the most inviolable of which is the continuity of the same domination and subordination. For Guatemalans, the state may have a new face, but power relations in Guatemala have remained intact since the transition to civilian rule, crushing the majority of people under the weight of repression and immiseration.

Reconciliation can only occur if a genuine process of truth and justice is implemented, where families can learn what happened to their loved ones, where offenders are brought to justice, and where the claims of the victims are heeded and resolved by the state. After this process, leniency or even pardons can be discussed, but to issue pardons and amnesties before the legal process is carried out is a cruel corruption of justice.


The question of justice in Guatemala has many facets. Justice is the demand of millions of Guatemalans who have seen loved ones and communities decimated and who live under intolerable conditions. Justice and human rights in their full meaning -- including economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights -- are urgently needed in Guatemala.

On a more abstract level, justice is a requirement for true democratization in the country, for it implies transforming the army and removing it from a dominant place in the polity. Clearly, this is a monumental task. The intransigence of the army has become clear in the peace process. Yet until the counterinsurgency apparatus is dismantled, until military criminals are sanctioned and removed from power, and until the military institution itself is transformed, a just system will not be possible.

The socioeconomic dimensions of justice are also urgent in Guatemala. With its ossified class structures and privileges for the few, Guatemala has one of the lowest levels of social development in the hemisphere. Fully 87.2% of Guatemalans are "pauperized" and living in a state of extreme poverty, according to a January 1992 U.N. report. Two-thirds of the population "goes to sleep each night without having eaten." UNICEF reports that Guatemala invests less in education than does Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere. Guatemala also has a higher level of infant malnutrition than Haiti (59% as opposed to Haiti's 30%) and fewer medical services (reaching 15% compared to Haiti's 20%).(46) Meanwhile, land distribution continues to be the most skewed in the hemisphere and the tax system the most regressive.

Guatemala is also distinctive, as we have seen, because of its Mayan peoples and their struggle for equality and respect. Their demands are, and will continue to be, central to Guatemala's struggle for justice.

As we have shown, impunity in its three dimensions -- structural, strategic, and political/psychological -- impedes attempts to change the unjust conditions of social and political life faced by the majority of Guatemalans. Yet, despite terror and impunity, Guatemalans have refused to be silenced in their struggle for justice.


(1.) Alvaro Rend Sosa Ramos escaped as army soldiers were transporting him by car to another location. He fled the country under the protection of the Belgian Embassy. See Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Campaign Against Torture packet (Spring 1991). (2.) Enfoprensa, No. 448 (October 22-28, 1991:5). (3.) For an analysis of mechanisms of impunity and entrenched national-security structures persisting in various Latin American states, see McSherry (September 1992). (4.) In its World Report 1992, Human Rights Watch argues that in this case (the military court's trial of two low-ranking officers for the Santiago Atitlan massacre of December 1990) "even the conviction for the massacre was a parody of justice." See Human Rights Watch, World Report 1992 (December 1991:162). (5.) This Cold War history has been widely documented in books by former CIA officers, journalists, and historians. Examples include Iran, 1953 (CIA destabilization); Indonesia, 1958 (CIA destabilization); Cuba, 1960s (CIA covert operation); the Congo, 1960s (CIA covert operation); Brazil, 1964 (U.S. Embassy and CIA plotting with Brazilian military); Dominican Republic, 1965 (U.S. invasion); Vietnam, 1960s to 1970s (all levels); Chile, 1973 (CIA destabilization); Nicaragua, 1980s (CIA destabilization and low-intensity conflict); and so on. (6.) This is one of the themes in Jonas' recent book (1991). (7.) Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), Quarterly Update on Human Rights in Guatemala (October 1, 1991-December 31, 1991:1). (8.) GHRC-USA, Information Bulletin 9, 4:8. (9.) Pro Justice & Peace Committee of Guatemala International Commission, "Impunity: |Institutionalization of Crime,"' Realities (August 1991:5). (10.) Quoted in Congressional Resolution 355, "Condemning human rights violations in Guatemala and supporting negotiations to peacefully end the 30-year civil war in that country." Introduced by Mr. Kostmayer (D-PA) et al. in 1990. (11.) See, for example, Zinner (1990), Gasperini (1990), Arce et al. (1990), and Gruson (1990). (12.) Latin American Data Base, Country Notes, Guatemala (February 7, 1992:7). (13.) Newsweek, Periscope (August 26, 1991:4). (14.) Noticias de Guatemala (August 1991:2). Many Guatemalans resented the fact that such quick action was taken on the case of one U.S. citizen, when tens of thousands of Guatemalans had been murdered. Skimer Klee, a member of Congress from the National Center Union party, said, "People are getting angry. They kill one gringo and the whole world moves, but they kill Guatemalans every day and nothing happens. This special immunity that Americans claim has to be looked at." "Guatemala Arrests Five in Killing of an American," New York Times (October 10, 1990:A9). (15.) Noticias de Guatemala, Number 193 (October 1991:1). (16.) NISGUA Guatemala Human Rights Update (February 1989). (17.) See Americas Watch (1989), Council on Hemispheric Affairs (1989), Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA et al. (1989), and Webster (1990). (18.) NISGUA, Quarterly Update on Human Rights in Guatemala (October 1, 1991-December 31, 1991:8). (19.) Enfoprensa, No.458 (December 31, 1991, to January 6, 1992:2). (20.) NISGUA, Quarterly Update on Human Rights in Guatemala (February 1989). (21.) Cerigua, Monthly Glance (June-July 1991:6). (22.) See, for example, Nairn and Simon (1986). The Guatemalan Army has officially given G2 another name, but it is still commonly called G2 in Guatemala and elsewhere. (23.) Alan Nairn discussed this with Jonathan Kwitney in the television news program. The Kwitney Report" (April 1989). (24.) Guatemala Scholars Network, "Open letter to LASA members" (March 1, 1991). (25.) Cerigua, Monthly Glance (June-July 1991:6). (26.) Schirmer (1991:11). In a later interview with Times of the Americas journalist Shelley Emling, Gramajo took pains to revise this statement. He said, "I was very naive when I spoke with that woman because she didn't speak Spanish very well and she did not understand what I was trying to say.... The effort of the government was to be 70% in development and 30% in the war effort...." This is hardly credible, given that Schirmer has spent many hours interviewing Gramajo in Spanish. See Emling, (1 992: 7). (27.) Cerigua, Monthly Glance (June-July 1991:6); see also Rohter (1991). On June 6, 1991, an excellent television documentary on the Dianna Ortiz case was broadcast on "Prime Time Live" with journalist Diane Sawyer. (28.) Cerigua Monthly Glance (June-July 1991:6). On November 13, 1991, the Massachusetts court ruled Gramajo to be in default and liable for damages due to his failure to appear. See NISGUA, Quarterly Update on Human Rights in Guatemala (October 1, 1991-December 31, 1991:8). (29.) Noticias de Guatemala, Number 193 (October 1991:1). (30.) Noticias de Guatemala, Number 191 (August 1991:1); and Enfoprensa/USA, No. 459 January 13, 1992:4). (31.) For example, in the wake of the January 1992 peace accord between the Salvadoran government and the FMLN, right-wing ARENA spokesmen and the military began calling for an unconditional amnesty. This was strongly opposed by the FMLN, the Church, and political parties such as Movimiento Popular Social Cristiano, Ruben Zamora's party. General Mauricio Vargas said "non-punitive reconciliation" was necessary; ARENA said Salvadorans had to "forget the wounds and the pain" and further, that "there is no other solution than a total amnesty" ("Olvidar en El Salvador el dolor de las heridas, pide Arena," La Jornada, Mexico, 15 de enero, 1992, and "Aun no hay acuerdo respecto a la amnistia," La Jornada, Mexico, 23 de enero, 1992). Archbishop Rivera y Damas, on the other hand, said "a blanket pardon is not going to contribute to a firm and true peace" ("La Iglesia se opone a la amnistia general," El Diario-La Prensa, New York, 20 de enero, 1992). Translation ours. (32.) As an example, a priest and nun told Amnesty International in 1985:

You must watch their eyes. No one will talk. You must try and see what they may be

trying to tell you with their eyes.... If you go [to the countryside] ... the thing that will

most move you is the silence. They will not talk to you because talk would mean risking

their very lives, and the people are already terrorized and prefer not to talk. What

you'll notice is that people will do one of two things. Either they will say that the army

is very good, or they will not say anything. They are never going to tell you that it's the

army that attacks them. From Simon [1987]. This book is a must for students of

Guatemala). (33.) From "The Unity Statement of the Revolutionary Organizations to the People of Guatemala," URNG, January 1982, in Fried et al. (1983: 289-290). (34.) URNG Guatemala, Bulletin Number 1 (noviembre de 1991: iv). Translation ours. (35.) "Mejoras en materia de respeto a los derechos humanos en Guatemala: Cheney," Uno Mds Uno, Mexico, p. 28. (36.) Comunicado de Prensa, Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (12 de febrero, 1992). (37.) See Althaus (1992:1). (38.) Enfoprensa, No. 458 (31 de diciembre de 1991 a 6 de enero de 1992: 2). Translation ours. (39.) NISGUA, Quarterly Update on Human Rights in Guatemala (October 1, 1991-December 31, 1991). As NISGUA notes, the government rejected these proposals, calling them unconstitutional and arguing that human-rights violations are part of the war and would continu until the signing of a peace agreement. The URNG rejected these arguments, pointing out that peasants were being murdered before the URNG came into existence, and also arguing that prior agreements between the government and URNG recognized the need for constitutional reform. One of the URNG leaders said the URNG would not accept impunity since that would be "a betrayal of the Guatemalan people and of ourselves." (40.) Enfoprensa/USA, No. 459 (January 13, 1992:2). (41.) See note 39. (42.) See note 31. (43.) For a fuller discussion of these themes, see McSherry (1992). (44.) Thanks to Carlos Varela, Uruguayan journalist, for this insight. (45.) The term is Rouquie's (1987). (46.) Enfoprensa, No. 458 (31 de diciembre de 1991 a 6 de enero de 1992: 8).


Althaus, Dudley 1992 "Salvador Peace Pact Now Reality." Houston Chronicle (January 7). Americas Watch 1989 "Guatemala: Massacre at El Aguacate." (February). Arce, Rose Marie et al. 1990 "War for the Children." Newsday (October 7). Christian, Shirley 1991 "Guatemelan Bars Rebel Rights Plan." New York Times (December 10): A8. Corradi, Juan 1987 "The Culture of Fear in Civil Society." Monica Peralta Ramos and Carlos Waisman (eds.), From Military Ride to Liberal Democracy in Argentina. Boulder and London: Westview Press: 124. Council on Hemispheric Affairs 1989 "News and Analysis (July 18). Cox, Robert 1981 "Social Forces, States, and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory." Millennium 10,2. Emling, Shelley 1992 "Retired General Sees Social Progress in Guatemala." Times of the Americas (February 5): 7. Fried, Jonathan L. et al. 1983 Guatemala in Rebellion: Unfinished History. New York: Grove Press: 289-290. Gasperini, William 1990 "Street Children under Assault by Guatemalan Police." Christian Science Monitor (September 20). Gruson, Lindsey 1990 "Remembering a Tortured Child Who Lived in the Streets of Guatemala." New York Times (October 14). Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA, Guatemala Scholars Network, Human Rights Legal Action Group, and National Assembly of Religious Women 1989 "A Report on the Massacre at El Aguacate, Guatemala." Jonas, Susanne 1991 The Battle for Guatemala: Rebels, Death Squads, and U.S. Power. Boulder: Westview Press. Krauss, Clifford 1990a "Guatemala Is Told to Solve Slaying." New York Times (September 20). 1990b "Rights Group Sees Failure by Guatemala Chief." New York Times (March 11):4. McSherry, J. Patrice 1992 "Military Power, Impunity, and State-Society Change in Latin America." Canadian Journal of Political Science (September). Nairn, Alan and Jean-Marie Simon 1986 "Bureaucracy of Death." The Progressive (June 30). O'Connor, James 1970 "The Meaning of Economic Imperialism." Robert I. Rhodes (ed.), Imperialism and Underdevelopment. New York: Monthly Review Press: 138. Petras, James 1989 "The Redemocratization Process." Susanne Jonas and Nancy Stein (eds.), Democracy in Latin America: Visions and Reality. New York: Bergin Garvey: 85-100. Rial, Juan 1990 "The Armed Forces and the Question of Democracy in Latin America." Louis W. Goodman et al. (eds.), The military and Democracy. Lexington: Lexington Books. Rohter, Larry 1991 "Ex-ruler of Haiti Faces Human Rights Suit in U.S.." New York Times November 15). Rouquie, Alain 1987 The Military and the State in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press: 75. Schirmer, Jennifer 1991 "The Guatemalan Military Project: An Interview with Gen. Hector Gramajo." Harvard International Review (Summer): 10. Simon, Jean Marie 1987 Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.: 87 Walter, E.V. 1969 Terror and Resistance: A Study of Political Violence. New York: Oxford University Press. Webster, Katherine 1990 "Deception in Guatemala: How the U.S. Media Bought a Cover-Up." The Progressive (February). Will, George 1989 "Cracking the Ice." Newsweek (June 19):72. Zinner, Josh 1990 "In Guatemala, No One Is Safe, Not Even the Children." New York Times (October 27).
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Title Annotation:Focus on Resistance, Rights, and Justice; human rights violations
Author:McSherry, J. Patrice; Mejia, Raul Molina
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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