Hillary Clinton in Guatemala: Repeating “Mistakes" or US Policy of Repression in Central America

June 22, 2011 – 12 Years After Bill Clinton Admits “Mistake” in Supporting Repression in Guatemala, Hillary will meet with De Facto Honduran President Pepe Lobo to Discuss Military and Police Assistance REPEATING “MISTAKES” OR A POLICY OF REPRESSION IN CENTRAL AMERICA?

Today, June 22, Hillary Clinton visits Guatemala; during her last official visit to Guatemala as First Lady, President Bill Clinton said, “For the United States, it is important that I clearly state that support for [Guatemalan] military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong. The United States must not repeat that mistake”. The United Nations sponsored truth commission had released its report, the Memory of Silence, a few weeks before. It found that the Guatemalan army had committed genocide against the Mayan population, registered 626 massacres, estimated more than 200,000 killed and disappeared – mostly Mayan and civilian, and found that the 93% of killings were undertaken by the Guatemalan military, 4% were of unknown authorship and 3% by the armed guerrilla movement. The Commission’s coordinator, Christian Tomuschat, was asked about the role of the US in the repression, and said “the United States knew perfectly well what was going on. It raised no objection and it continued its support for the Guatemalan army.” HONDURAS: USE OF VIOLENCE FOR POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC CONTROL Today Hillary Clinton visits Guatemala almost exactly two years after the military coup in Honduras , a military coup whose objective was to stop a broad based movement to change the political and economic structures in Honduras, changes that potentially could threaten US and Canadian business interests. Today, Clinton will meet with de facto Honduran president Pepe Lobo to discuss US funding of the Honduran military and police. The military coup has been followed by two years of extreme repression and growing violence. Over these two years the number of Honduran police officers has grown from approximately 8,000 to 34,000 and the murder rate in 2010 shot up over 25% from 2009. Though a tremendous growth of the armed forces has been observed the number of troops is a ‘state secret.’ Newspapers, day after day, week after week have been filled with terrifying violence, much of it by police and military, like the June 7, 2011 story in El Tiempo that reported four high school students had been detained by police, the next day their dismembered bodies were found in an empty lot. This kind of horrific violence is passed off as ‘drug’ violence. Clearly this kind of violence is often carried out by drug cartel hit men, but in so many cases it is clear that the authors are State security forces. This is not a few bad apples. Drug networks in Central America were born from the militaries, particularly military intelligence networks, many backed by the US. In 1997, after a scandal touched off by the murder of a US citizen by a Guatemalan CIA asset, Colonel and drug trafficker, the CIA conducted an internal review and fired about 1,000 informants for involvement in criminal activities, mostly in the Americas. Terrifying violence has always been a political tool, and that is true in Central America today. “Hard-line against crime” public figures like the Honduran Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez, widely accused of involvement in massacres and torture, or front running Guatemalan presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina, accused of running torture centers, acts of genocide and reported in 1995 to be on CIA payroll, and who have histories of close relations with organized crime figures, manipulate the hard line against crime discourse to promote their own political power aspirations. And, over the past two years in Honduras death squads have been killing human rights and political activists. There is no way the State Department is not aware of the death squads and paramilitaries, operating as part of the Honduran security forces, but continues to fund and otherwise support those forces. There are reports of US army helicopter traffic on the Honduran military base that hosts the most active paramilitary group. This leads to the question, did Bill Clinton really believe the US made a mistake in supporting genocide and repression in Guatemala? Or are the “mistakes” that the US made in Central America in the 1980’s just part of an ongoing policy. THE ROOTS OF REPRESSION: CHANGING A SYSTEM OF MULTIPLE EXCLUSIONS The Memory of Silence’s findings about the roots of the extreme repression in Guatemala are key to understanding Honduras today, which is only natural since the two nations share a very similar history. The Memory of Silence found that: “The structure and nature of economic, social and cultural relations in Guatemala are marked by profound exclusion, antagonism and conflict – a reflection of its colonial history.” “The anti-democratic nature of the Guatemalan political tradition has its roots in an economic structure marked by the concentration of productive wealth in the hands of a minority. This established the foundations of a system of multiple exclusions.” “The State gradually evolved as an instrument for the protection of this system, guaranteeing the continuation of exclusion and injustice.” “The absence of an effective state social policy, with the exception of the period from 1944 to 1954, accentuated this historical dynamic of exclusion.” “The legislative branch and the participating political parties also contributed, at various times, to the increasing polarization and exclusion, establishing legal norms which legitimized the regimes of exception and the suppression of civil and political rights.” “Thus a vicious circle was created in which social injustice led to protest and subsequently political instability, to which there were always only two responses: repression or military coups. Faced with movements proposing economic, political, social or cultural change, the State increasingly resorted to violence and terror in order to maintain social control. Political violence was thus a direct expression of structural violence.” “Faced with movements proposing economic, political or cultural change, the State increasingly resorted to violence and terror in order to maintain social control. Political violence was thus a direct expression of structural violence. ” “The Mayan population paid the highest price for the logic of the armed conflict. … In various regions of the country, the military identified groups of Mayan people as natural allies of the guerillas.” “The massacres, scorched earth operations, forced disappearances and executions of Mayan authorities, leaders and spiritual guides, were not only an attempt to destroy the social base of the guerrillas, but above all, to destroy the cultural values that ensured cohesion and collective action in Mayan communities.” “Through the massacres and so-called scorched-earth operations planned by the State forces, complete Mayan communities were exterminated, and their homes, livestock, crops and other means of survival were destroyed.” JUSTICE AND NEW GOVERNMENTS ARE POSSIBLE BUT THE US MUST STOP SUPPORTING REPRESSION This week in Guatemala is historic. On June 17 General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes was arrested and on Monday June 20 formally charged with the crime of genocide. He was head of the President’s Intelligence Council for General Efrain Rios Montt, and was the highest Guatemalan commanding officer during over 400 massacres. Almost 30 years later, justice has been slow but it is on the horizon. Guatemalans can build a new country, Hondurans can create a new political system that is not based on exclusion and violence, but the United States must stop supporting repression. It is time for a Truth Commission about the role of the United States in Central America.

— Annie Bird Co Director
     Rights Action