Documents show U.S. knew of Guatemalan human rights abuses

Friday, March 20, 2009

The United States State Department knew that members of Guatemala's military government were responsible for the disappearance of thousands of people during the country's 36-year civil war, according to declassified documents obtained by the Washington D.C.-based National Security Archive, a non-governmental, non-profit research organization.

Eleven documents from the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, dating from 1984 to 1986, show that the Reagan administration was aware that the Guatemalan Army and National Police were involved in a systematic effort to "kidnap anyone suspected of insurgent connections" during the military government of President Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores.

"The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme left-wing labor movement for interrogation," reads a 1984 cable by Frederic L. Chapin, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala from 1981-1984. A State Department report from the same year says, "Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation."

The Guatemalan Civil War was waged from 1960-1996 between the government, dominated since the 1954 military coup by elements of the army, and leftist guerrillas. More than 200,000 people, most belonging to indigenous Mayan tribes, died or went missing during the war.

In the first week of March 2009, Guatemalan authorities arrested two police officers on charges related to the 1984 disappearance of Edgar Fernando García, a trade union activist. García is named in several of the declassified documents.

The National Security Archive obtained the documents from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act. Current State Department spokesman Fred Lash said he was unaware of the documents.