Guatemala: Muffled Screams

(The author is a junior in Jordan K. This is the first part of a three-part feature.)

I JUST READ in the New York Times [Dec. 27, 1970], that one of the few Guatemalan professors who was not afraid to talk to me has been shot while driving his car by one of the Right's death squads. This man, Alfonso Bauer Paiz, had publicly denounced the government so many times, and had nearly died for it so many times, that he had nothing to fear from informers. He was only wounded this time. While I was in Guatemala this summer, they tried to run him over in a car. Sooner or later, they will get him.

Another law professor wasn't so lucky-"shot to death by gunmen at one of the capital's main intersections. A police patrol car was parked at the scene but made no effort to intercept the killers." This sort of thing is quite common in Guatemala, where 2,000 to 4,000 people (Committee of Returned [Peace Corps] Volunteers, Guatemala Perspective. [hereafter referred to as CRV], "The Violent Polarization of Left and Right in Guatemala," 1968, p. 1) have been assassinated by the extra-legal, government-supported vigilante groups. But since the founder of the largest such organization became president on July, 1970, the terror has steadily mounted. This man, Col. Carlos Arana Osrio, has promised to exterminate all subversives in five months. According to the N.Y. Times: Military patrols now shoot anyone out after 11 p.m. who does not obey an order to halt. The families of 315 arrested persons have asked to see the prisoners, but the police can only account for 40, saying, "the others are not in jail." The jails are so packed that police simply take prisoners out to the suburbs, shoot them, and push them out of the car. The University Council paid for an advertisement in the local papers protesting the shooting of the two professors. The papers which printed the statements were warned by the Minister of Defense that they are breaking the law against publishing items which cause "public alarm."

Guatemala, some say, is a lot like South Vietanm. On June 16, 1954. the U.S. installed Diem in Saigon. Two days later, Col. Castillo Armas invaded Guatemala equipped with 200 trained and outfitted men, four P-47 fighters, two C-47 cargo planes, and U.S. pilots to fly them. Time magazine [July 12, 1954] said America's bill for the invasion was five million dollars. The planes bombed and strafed Puerto Barrios, Puerto San Jose and Guatemala City, the capital. (Eduardo Galeano, Guatemala, Occupied Country, N.Y. 1969, p. 48) The democratically elected government of Argenz, the most popular president in the country's history, fell in ten days.

Armas, the conquering hero, entered the city in the U.S. Ambassador's private airplane. (Endre Fontaine, History of the Cold War, Vol. II, N.Y. 1968, p. 378) Arbenz had raised the minimum wage from 26c to $1.08 a day, allowed trade unions and peasant leagues freedom to organize, and, under an agrarian reform law limiting the vast uncultivated holdings held by the oligarchy, expropriated 234,000 acres of unused United Fruit Company land. He didn't just take it, though. He offered U.F.C. $600,000 in 25-year 3 per cent government bonds which was the value listed on the company's tax forms. U.F.C., backed by the Dulles brothers, two old United Fruit lawyers, demanded $16 million. (United Nations, Foreign Capital in Latin America, 1955, pp. 97-98) Arbenz had the impudence to refuse. He was, then, in the words of U.S. Ambassador John Peurifoy, "a man who thought like a communist, and talked like a communist, and if not actually one, would do until one came along." (Fontaine, op.cit., p. 377)

Once in power, Armas returned the land, killed those new peasant owners who resisted, declared every union in the country illegal, and formed new ones with the help of AFL/CIO's ORIT (Interamerican Regional Lab-or Organization) and Batista's Cuban Confederation of Labor. ( Presna Libre, July 19, 1954, p. 3, cited in CRV, "Peasant and Worker Organization in Guatemala," p. 5) He promised entering foreign firms a ten-year tax holiday, and signed away oil exploitation rights for over half the land in the country. The oil law was presented to his new congress to ratify written in English. Bauer Paiz told me that some deputy with a trace of shame suggested that it first be translated into Spanish.

Since then, except for a few palace coups, not much has changed. Since 1962 urban and rural guerrillas have been fighting the dictatorship. There are a lot more American firms, like the new nickel mine, which anticipates gross sales of over $10 billion in the next 23 years (Guatemala's rich get tossed $204 million). ( Naeva Presencia, Guatemala, University of San Carlos, Facultad de Economic, July, 1970) Twelve of every one hundred children die before age four, six on them from measles. The illiteracy rate is the second highest in Latin America. (Juan Maestro Alfonso, Estudias de la vida rural en America Central, Madrid, 1969, cited in Madrid, Jan, 17, 1970) Since it leaves the people "vulnerable to Castroite propaganda" (quote from ex-president Fuentes, Alerta, May 31, 1970, p. 3) education is not stressed. And as for how they eat, the director of U.N.'s INCAP Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama), his this to say. "The pre-Colombian Maya ate better than the people do today." ( El Imparcial, Jan. 6, 1964, cited in Thoma and Marjorie Mellville, "Guatemala: Analogue to Vietnam," New Politics, Winter, 1969, p. 18) Such U.N. studies have been described as "Communist documents" by Guatemala's ex-president Fuentes.

The current bulwark of this great order is Col. Arana Osorio. He is on top of the military heap ( equals president) today because:

1. MANO BLANCA (White) Hand) which he organized in 1966 is the most important of the death squads. It is staffed principally by Army and police personnel, and under the control of MLN (Movement for National Liberation-the party of Armas and Arana). It has effectively dealt with thousands of students, professors, reporters, workers, peasants, and even a few loyal opposition candidates, not to mention the guerrilla FAR (Rebel Armed Forces). (CRV, "The Violent . . .," by 3. See also Commission on Human Rights, "Violeincia en Guatemala.")

2. He has the deep respect of American military men, with whom he has worked closely for years. His great victory was "Operation Hawk," in which the troops of his friend General Somoza (whose family has ruled Nicaragua for 34 years) and the U.S. Southern Command participated. (Thomas and Marjorie Melville, op. cit., p. 28) As the Vice President, Rojas, bragged in his magazine La Hara, at least one village was napalmed in this action. The guerrillas were driven out.

The bestiality of this man is simply unbelievable. J. C. Goulden, a Nation reporter, was once having a few drinks with Arana. "You Know my friend," said the colonel, "there are some books that are necessary for anyone that wants to begin to understand Guatemala." The books? The Protocols of the Elders of Zion -the "Master Plan for the Zionist domination of the world." Also, View from the Fourth Floor. which unmasks the communists in the State Department who put Fidel Castro in power. (J. C. Goulden, "A Real Good Relationship," Nation, June 1, 1970, p. 646) Such a lunatic would be only funny if he were not receiving millions of U.S. military aid every year. In 1967, for example, Guatemala got $1.7 million worth of military aid, while $500,000 of Alliance for Progress went to the police force. (Letter from Guy A. Wiggins, Guatemalan Desk, State Dept., quoted in Tsunami, Catholic University, Mar, 1969, cited in Thomas and Marjorie Melville, op. eit., p. 28) All of Guatemala's top colonels are trained by the United States (Castillo Armas was a Fort Leavenworth grad), and all the counter-insurgency Ranger troops are trained at Ft. Gulick, Panama Canal Zone. But then, as the late Ambassador John Mien said as he presented Guatemala's gorillas with a few armored vehicles, grenate launchers, and jet powered helicopters.

These articles, especially the helicopters, are not easy to obtain at this time, since they are being utilized by our armed forces in defense of liberty in other parts of the world. But liberty must be defended wherever it is threatened and that liberty is now being threatened in Guatemala. ( El Imparcial, Nov. 10, 1967, quoted in Thomas and Marjorie Melville, op.cit., p. 26)

A Note on "Violence" and the Liberal Press

The N.Y. Times has entitled the article quoted above "Guatemala Failing to Halt Terror by Left and Right." Col. Arana, "a right wing law and order candidate" is unable to bring peace. The article does not say that Col. Arana is the right terror, and it does not say that the U.S. is backing him. The liberal press may serve up a few "atrocity" stories (Mv Lai), but quarantines the facts which might connect the atrocities with . . . liberals. A step above this is Goulden's Nation article, which tells of Arana's U.S. support, but blames this on that dark power "the Pentagon." What about the Alliance for Progress, AID, the U.S. Ambassador, United Fruit, the coffee companies, Standard Oil, and the Hanna Mining Company? Are they perhaps neutral? Oh, they might like a president with a more liberal image, but if keeping Guatemala defenseless against U.S. capital calls for a strong man like Arana, then he's get their hearty support. Goulden goes on to say that "both factions committed murders of stomach turning grisliness." Killing is pretty grisly, but so are all the babies dead of measles and malnutrition.

What does the "left terror" consist of They have kidnapped rich business man, killed some MLN politicians associated with MANO, killed two ambassadors (one, the above-mentioned Mein), machine gunned the U.S. military team chief Col. Weber (right after MANO had killed Miss Guatemala because she was a guerrilla's girl friend), bombed jeeps, bombed some American restaurants like "The Hawaii" and "The American Donut Shop," bombed the newspaper Presna Libre (Free Press), bombed Castillo Armas' tomb and tear gassed the Peace Corps offices. Now, I will not argue that this is just a "tactical question." Violence which strikes innocents (perhaps the restaurant bombings) should be condemned. But before retreating in a generalized horror at violence, one should ask, which does the most violence? In sheer number of victims, the right, which counts in thousands, dwarfs the left, which still hasn't reached a hundred. On which side is the violence of peasant misery? And what could a movement committed to ending this violence do without arming itself? Take the case of Father Blaise Bonpane, of the Maryknoll order. He was training students to go out with a sleeping bag, live with peasants, and teach them to read. One of the books was How to Organize a Peasant League. Some Leagues were started, hoping to eventually gain the strength to ask for higher wages. The Indians called the students "guerrillas of peace." MANO kidnapped one student and sent another a death letter. "Under these circumstances," says Bonpane, "you either go with arms or you stay out." (CRV, Pannel Transcript, p. 15) The primary use of the guerrillas' weapons at this stage is to enable them to enter a village and explain their program to the peasants, asking them to join. Debray may have overstressed the military role of the guerrilla, and perhaps FAR does too. But he was right in saying that in order to do any kind of authentic mass organizing in most of Latin America, one needs the protection of arms.