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(or, How Did Genocide Happen in Our Backyard?). Guatemala: a human rights history. Q. How can it be that unarmed indigenous villagers are slaughtered by their own government?. How does genocide happen?. Q. How does genocide happen?. A. Black/white logic of Latin America’s war on terrorism

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(or, How Did Genocide Happen in Our Backyard?)

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(or, How Did Genocide Happen in Our Backyard?)

Guatemala:

a human rights history


Q. How can it be that unarmed indigenous villagers are slaughtered by their own government?

How does genocide happen?


Q. How does genocide happen?

A. Black/white logic of Latin America’s war on terrorism

+

entrenched racism and structures of ethnic exclusion

=

genocide


Guatemala

  • Since colonial times, wealth concentrated in very few hands; most people extremely poor

  • Attempts to change structures of inequality have been greeted by violence

  • Majority of population is Mayan


1954

  • United States CIA sponsored coup (military overthrow of democratically-elected government)

  • Cold War, fear of communism

  • Agrarian reform


United Fruit Company

  • 40,000 jobs in Guatemala

  • investments valued at $60 million

  • owned the country’s telephone and telegraph facilities

  • owned almost every mile of railroad in the country

  • controlled its only port on the Atlantic Ocean

  • monopolized banana exports

  • not happy about agrarian reform  lobbied US government to intervene on grounds of “stopping Communism”


1954 Coup

US intervention in Guatemala planned by 2 brothers:

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles

(lawyer whose firm represented United Fruit)

CIA Director Allen Dulles

(former member of United Fruit’s Board of Trustees)


Document 1

1995 study by CIA history staff analyst Gerald K. Haines

acknowledges and explains the CIA’s role in toppling the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and in “disposing” of “key government officials and Guatemalan Communists”


1954 Coup

  • 1954: CIA ousted President Arbenz, forced him into exile, installed US-friendly government to replace him

  • anyone who objected to new government was killed; CIA drew up hit lists

  • the coup and subsequent repression of opposition  beginning of the Guatemalan guerrilla movement in 1960


Guatemalan guerrilla movement

  • Members of the armed forces who rejected Guatemala’s capitulation to USA

  • Marxist ideology

  • Small, clandestine groups, blend in with civilian population

    • Political efforts: seek to build popular support by educating people about injustice

    • Military efforts: unlikely to win on battlefield, so must stage selective operations to bring state power “to its knees”: bombings of state facilities, kidnappings and selective assassination of enemies


Document 2

Declassified cable from CIA station in Guatemala City reporting execution of PGT leaders


First wave of war (1960-1970)

  • Widespread use of state terrorism => Crushing defeat for guerrillas

  • Few survivors decided to regroup, moved to western highlands, went underground for many years

  • Did not exert public presence again until mid-1970s


Second wave of war (1975-1986)

  • Guerrilla groups emerged in western highlands

  • New challenge for Army: because guerrillas organizing in indigenous communities, identifying them meant penetrating these communities

    • Civil patrols (paramilitary units)

    • “Scorched earth”


Document 3

  • declassified CIA cable from April 1981, describing how an Army patrol found evidence that residents of a village named Cocob supported the guerrillas, and therefore “were forced to fire at anything that moved”)


Document 4

  • DCI Watch Committee Report, dated 5 February 1982

    (DCI Watch is a committee of the CIA)

    discusses Guatemalan military’s plans to sweep through an area where many indigenous peasants support the guerrilla, and acknowledging that “it will be necessary to destroy a number of villages”


Document 5

Feb 1982 CIA cable

Describes Army sweep through the same area discussed in document 4, noting that no major guerrilla forces had been found but that since the Army has concluded the entire Indian population is pro-guerrilla, “the Army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike” and the army has therefore destroyed “a large number” of guerrilla collaborators


Rio Negro, Guatemala


Genocide

  • Prior to this period, binary logic of “you’re either with us, or you’re against us” => massive repression

  • Turning point: equation of indigenous identity with communism

  • This is where massive repression became genocide

    • 626 massacres

    • many communities wiped off map

    • idea was not to punish guerrillas, but to eliminate entire society which “hid” them


Peace

End of cold war, rise of human rights movement =>

  • Awareness began to spread about what was happening;

  • International public opinion turned against Guatemalan government, encouraged peace process

  • 1996: Guatemalan government and guerrillas signed peace accords


Human rights in Guatemala today

  • No one has been convicted of ordering human rights crimes committed during war

  • Those leading effort to change this continue to be threatened today


Lessons?

  • The Guatemalan genocide happened in the name of saving democracy from terrorism

  • One recent study of Brazilian torturers (Huggins et al 2002) identifies certain characteristics of “atrocity environments”:

    • Secrecy and fear

    • Binary logic: “you’re either with us or you’re against us”

    • Climate of all-out war against internal enemy


The erroneous belief that the end justifies the means converted Guatemala into a country of death and sadness. It should be remembered, once and for all, that there are no values superior to the lives of human beings, and thereby superior to the existence and well-being of an entire national community. —Commission for Historical Clarification, 1999


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