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Confronting Guatemala’s Military Massacres

Guatemala-Massacresby Jacob G. Hornberger

Ironically, while the U.S. military is grappling with the cold-blooded killing of 16 Afghans, including women and children, the Guatemalan people are dealing with a military massacre of their own. A Guatemalan court has just sentenced a former member of Guatemala’s special forces, Pedro Pimental Rios, to a jail term of 6,060 years.

Pimental was convicted of participating in a military operation at a Guatemalan village named Dos Erres. According to the Guardian, “In December 1982, several dozen soldiers stormed Dos Erres and systematically killed men, women, and children. Soldiers bludgeoned villagers with a sledgehammer, threw them down a well, and raped women and girls before killing them, according to court papers filed in a case brought by US prosecutors against another former kaibil.”

Pimental denied being at the massacre, claiming that he was preparing enrollment papers for the U.S. military’s School of the Americas when the massacre took place.

That’s also ironic, given that the School of the Americas is the notorious U.S. military school that trained the military forces of Latin American dictatorships for decades. In fact, many Latin American soldiers who tortured and raped people during military operations received their training at the School of the Americas, including from the school’s infamous torture manual.

For its part, the School of the Americas has always maintained that it shouldn’t be held responsible for the atrocities committed by its graduates because it didn’t train them to commit such atrocities.

Of course, that defense is ridiculous. The School of the Americas knew that it was training the military forces of brutal dictatorships, including military dictatorships. The U.S. military clearly understood the nature of these dictatorships, including the fact that the military forces of such dictatorships often committed atrocities with impunity, including torture, rape, and cold-blooded murder.

The fundamental problem is that the U.S. military, the CIA, and the U.S. government in general believed in these dictatorships and loved them. For them, the fact that the military was running Latin American countries was fantastic. Military regimes, they felt, brought “order and stability” to Latin American countries.

Equally important, such regimes killed communists and terrorists. Sure, sometimes the troops got out of hand, but what mattered was the war on communism — keeping the people safe from communist control.

Guatemala, of course, is a perfect example of this mindset. In 1954, the CIA engineered a coup in which the democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, was ousted from power and replaced by a succession of military generals. According to U.S. officials, Arbenz was a communist, a point exemplified by his intent to take unused land away from a giant U.S. corporation named United Fruit and give it to the poor.

The U.S. national-security state was ecstatic over its success in destroying Guatemala’s democracy. In the minds of the CIA and the U.S. military, the United States had saved Guatemala and possibly even the United States from communism.

The coup ended up producing a civil war that lasted for decades, which ended up killing more than a million Guatemalans. Of course, the U.S.-supported Guatemalan military dictatorship justified those deaths by saying that the people they were killing were nothing but no-good communists and terrorists.

The Guatemalan people are confronting their tragic past and the horrific role that U.S.-installed military dictatorships played in it. If only the Americans people would do the same.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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