Genocide in Guatemala: Another Consequence of U.S. Policy?
by Mike Nuess
The May 10, 2013 conviction of former Guatemalan dictator and School of the Americas attendee, Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocide and crimes against humanity sets a major milestone along the long path toward justice on this earth, marking the first time a head of state has been convicted of genocide by his or her own country, and clearly testifying to the extraordinary and courageous perseverance of thousands of persecuted Guatemalans who toiled to bring the truth to light.
But the path toward justice leads further, continuing both within Guatemala and beyond it, too—perhaps especially to the U.S.
A May 16, 2013 article in the New York Times by Elizabeth Malkin, Trial on Guatemalan Civil War Carnage Leaves Out U.S. Role, explored Washington’s alliance with Montt and previewed some of the defenses U.S. officials are likely to attempt, should the effort to bring the truth to light manage to shine upon them.
The path into the role of U.S. policy isn’t too hard to follow, the historical record is fairly clear for those willing to look beyond standard dogma.
For example, journalist Alan Nairn visited Guatemala during the 1980’s and later, interviewing Montt and others. His scheduled testimony for the genocide trial contained information relevant to the U.S. role in the terror and genocide: The Guatemala Genocide Case: Testimony Notes Regarding Rios Montt.
Also, MIT Institute Professor Noam Chomsky has laid bare the context in several works since at least the 1980’s, for example, in the book What Uncle Sam Really Wants, published in 1993:
In 1944, a revolution [in Guatemala] overthrew a vicious tyrant, leading to the establishment of a democratic government that basically modeled itself on Roosevelt’s New Deal. In the ten-year democratic interlude that followed, there were the beginnings of successful independent economic development.
That caused virtual hysteria in Washington. Eisenhower and Dulles warned that the “self defense and self-preservation” of the United States was at stake unless the virus was exterminated. US intelligence reports were very candid about the dangers posed by capitalist democracy in Guatemala.
A CIA memorandum of 1952 described the situation in Guatemala as “adverse to US interests”…. the “radical and nationalist policies” of the democratic capitalist government, including the “persecution of foreign economic interests, especially the United Fruit Company,” had gained “the support or acquiescence of almost all Guatemalans.” The government was proceeding “to mobilize the hitherto politically inert peasantry” while undermining the power of large landholders. Furthermore, the 1944 revolution had aroused “a strong national movement to free Guatemala from the military dictatorship, social backwardness, and ‘economic colonialism’ which had been the pattern of the past,” and “inspired the loyalty and conformed to the self interest of most politically conscious Guatemalans.” Things became still worse after a successful land reform began to threaten “stability” in neighboring countries where suffering people did not fail to take notice.
In short, the situation was pretty awful. So the CIA carried out a successful coup . Guatemala was turned into the slaughterhouse it remains today, with regular US intervention whenever things threaten to get out of line….
Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we’ve backed there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington’s friends slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands, with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.
Reagan and the people around him applauded what was happening in Guatemala. Not only did he defend it, he applauded and rallied support for it. In 1982, Reagan explained that the dictator Rios Montt [1982-83] was a man dedicated to democracy and we heard similar things from [U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1981-85)] Jeane Kirkpatrick, and the rest of that gang. During that whole period, [U.S. Secretary of State (1982-89)] George Shultz, [U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (1981-85); Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (1985-89)] Elliot Abrams, Reagan allies and many others defended and supported events in Guatemala, and never seriously protested about what was happening there.
In 1999, two weeks after a United Nations Truth Commission found Guatemalan government forces responsible for over 93 percent of the human right violations during the so-called ‘civil war’, U.S. President Bill Clinton went to Guatemala and apologized for U.S. support of the series of brutal dictatorships. Why did the U.S. do it? Clinton called it a mistake. But perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps, it was no more a mistake than Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Perhaps the path leads deeper, slipping well beyond the usual excuse of noble but naïve intentions, and running directly to those who economist and philosopher Adam Smith called the “vile masters,” those “merchants and manufactures” who are the “principal architects of policy,” and see to it that their own interests are “most peculiarly attended to” regardless of the effect on others.
So a CIA coup, population displacement and genocide were not obstacles when it came protecting the peculiar interests of United Fruit (now Chiquita Banana) as well as other masters in Guatemala and elsewhere. The masters’ policies have been consistently the same, virtually unchanged before, during and after the Cold War; and clearly summarized by Smith’s Vile Maxim of the Masters: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.”
The vile maxim is quite present today, evident, for example, in the statement of Charles Koch, promoter of the Keystone XL pipeline, regarding his pilfering of oil revenues from the Osage Indians: “I want my fair share – and that’s all of it,” regardless, apparently, of the effect on the Osage.
And the influence of these “principal architects of policy” is quite present in Guatemala today. Merely 10 days after Guatemala’s genocide conviction its Constitutional Court overturned the conviction—after an intensive lobbying campaign by opponents of the verdict. “Perhaps the most important campaign was by Guatemala’s powerful business federation, known as Cacif [Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations]…. Representing the country’s deeply conservative oligarchy, Cacif urged the court to overturn the verdict.” (Elizabeth Malkin, NYT)
The vile maxim and the policies that flow from it reflect not evil malevolence, but an ancient, fear-based, brain-stem-deep assumption of resource scarcity. Even though humanity has gradually come to possess sufficient experience and knowledge to rapidly deploy and enjoy a sustainable abundance for all—forever—that obsolete vision of scarcity still drives the masters, those powerful architects of policies implemented by the likes of Rios Montt, quite willing to deliver “scorched communists” for the masters.
How ironic that they can be so swift and cunning about the plunder of others, yet so blind to today’s reality that human survival depends entirely upon successful accommodation to both the physical environment and all its peoples. Sadly, humanity will perish if we continue to be driven by this now obsolete vision that it’s either us or them, but not both, who will survive. How can we wrest the power from the swift, cunning, ruthless but foolish masters, who remain blinded to humanity’s option for abundant and joyful survival and thus continue shoving us all toward the cliff of oblivion?
Perhaps, at this moment, in this one instance, we have another fleeting opportunity to move closer to practicing that all-inclusive vision. We can join with our Guatemalan brothers and sisters in the effort to bring the whole truth about U.S. policies of terror in Guatemala to light. As they continue the long road to justice, perhaps we should act upon Alan Nairn’s suggestion: Follow Guatemala’s Lead: Convene a Genocide Case Grand Jury here in the U.S. to investigate the role of our “principal architects of policy” in the destruction of over 200,000 Guatemalan lives. For each exposure of ruthless resource plunder—whether it be copper in Chile, iron in Brazil, coltan in Congo or oil in Iraq—helps to reveal the consistent, near-universal pattern.
Even if the moral imperative cannot draw enough of us into action, perhaps the desire for survival will.