By Jim Veeder
In response to The Tico Times’ Feb. 3 editorial, “Will There Be Justice in Guatemala?” what I have to say is not a criticism of your excellent article and editorial, but is a continuation of the discussion.
The coming to power of retired Guatemalan Gen. Otto Pérez Molina at the same time that ex-dictator and retired Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt was finally charged in the courts with crimes against humanity and acts of genocide does not bode well. If Ríos Montt is guilty of massacres and assassinations of unarmed civilians, so is Pérez Molina, who, as your article in the same issue noted, was commander in the Ixil Triangle region while Ríos Montt was president. What’s more, Pérez Molina has been cited as being present at a nearby pulpería (corner store) the night Bishop Juan Gerardi was murdered.
By chance I was in Nebaj, in the Ixil Triangle, once when Ríos Montt was making a speech in the park in favor of his party’s candidate for mayor. The main theme of the speech was that everybody – or at least all the common people – should be good and do their jobs well, be good fathers and mothers and mind their own business (and stay out of politics). Not exactly a pro-democracy message.
Your editorial begins by discussing the case of Fernando García. As a volunteer with Peace Brigades International, on several occasions between 1986 and 1990 I provided international accompaniment to both his widow, Nineth Montenegro de García, and their then-4-year-old daughter, Alejandra. I sat outside her preschool, watching the door so as to prevent or witness any abduction attempts.
In later years, I accompanied the returning Mayan refugees – those who survived the massacres – from the United Nations refugee camps in Mexico back to where their communities were massacred in 1982 in the Ixcán jungle, and on separate occasions from 1993 to 1995 volunteered as an international accompanier in the rebuilt Mayan communities in the Ixcán.
It’s perhaps easier to look back 30 years and condemn crimes against humanity committed then than it is to condemn them when they are happening. Let us not forget that at the time Ríos Montt was ordering Plan Victoria and Operation Sofia, he met with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who afterward stated that Ríos Montt was receiving “a bum rap” as to accusations of human rights abuses.
When the U.S. Congress finally prohibited U.S. military aid to Guatemala, Israel stepped in to do the job, presumably with a wink and a nod from the United States. Urban resistance was decimated by Israeli intelligence assistance, using computer monitoring of electricity usage, for one thing. The Israelis set up a factory for the Guatemalan Army to manufacture armored vehicles known as “armadillos.” In 1984, Israeli companies supplied Guatemala with $20 million worth of weaponry.
One cannot discuss crimes against humanity in Guatemala without mentioning the responsibility of the U.S. government, and specifically the CIA, for overthrowing the democratically elected government of Jacobo Árbenz in 1954. The CIA not only organized the overthrow, but also obtained lists of Guatemalans who had supported Árbenz or had been active in labor unions, and gave the lists to the military for death-squad targeting. The U.S. put the Guatemalan military in power.
Oh, but that was then, this is today, right? Anyway, U.S. President Bill Clinton apologized to the people of Guatemala for what the U.S. did to them. Now the U.S. is good again.
The 1954 CIA coup in Guatemala was preceded by the 1953 CIA coup in Iran. Today, once again, the U.S. is trying to overthrow the Iranian government. How curious, the same U.S.-Israel team that violently destroyed Guatemala’s social fabric is now destroying the Middle East, waging wars of aggression for the benefit of Israeli hegemony in the region, for control of oil and natural gas, for pipeline routes, and for the survival of the petro-dollar.
Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney should have been put on trial for the supreme crime, according to the Nuremberg Tribunals, of waging a war of aggression in Iraq, also for violating international law by authorizing torture. Instead of trials for Bush and Cheney, President Barack Obama has gone even further by authorizing the assassination of U.S. citizens anywhere in the world based solely on the authority of the president.
Columnist Glenn Greenwald has noted that Bush’s own CIA and NSA chief, Michael Hayden said about the Obama-authorized assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki: “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him, but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?”
The U.S. is like an invasive weed, with more than 800 military bases in more than 130 countries, and military spending equal to almost half of total worldwide military spending.
Where did it all begin? The ’53 and ’54 CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala? Teddy Roosevelt’s annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines? The overthrow of the Hawaiian queen in the 1890s?
Perhaps Mark Twain had it right as to the onset of this global scourge of U.S. imperialism when he wrote that first the pilgrims fell on their knees, and then they fell on the aborigines. And they haven’t stopped.
It’s not just Ríos Montt who should be on trial.
Jim Veeder worked as a volunteer with Peace Brigades International in Guatemala from 1986-1989. In 1993, he accompanied the first return of Guatemalan Mayan refugees from the U.N. refugee camps in Mexico. He also accompanied Mayan communities being rebuilt in the Ixcán, including Cuarto Pueblo, where the army massacred 324 people in 1982.