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Breaking A Legacy of Silence
March 5, 2013 8:14 PM   Subscribe

"An April 17, 1981, a CIA cable[pdf] described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas. A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.” The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” In May 1981, despite these ongoing atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that former President Jimmy Carter and Congress had imposed."
The Guatemala Documentation Project, part of the National Security Archive, collects information about the decades long civil war in Guatemala, including State Department documents that point to Washington's complicity in massacres, assassinations and human rights violations.
posted by empath (21 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

posted by Ironmouth at 8:27 PM on March 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

This American Life did an episode last year about an unwitting survivor of one of the many village massacres undertaken by the Guatemalan military during the civil war.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:28 PM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

US President Clinton apologised in 1999 for the US role in the civil war. Has anything else been done?
posted by honest knave at 8:28 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had an interesting experience while taking Spanish lessons in the Mayan highlands last year. My teacher had a workbook that showed a bunch of people in various professions, and I was supposed to use adjectives to describe them. One of them was a soldier. I'll just say that the difference in the words we used to describe them was stark, and led to one of the more interesting and moving conversations I had with anyone down there. It's a beautiful place full of amazing, but scarred people.
posted by empath at 8:36 PM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

empath: can you say more? What were the words used to describe them, roughly?
posted by el io at 9:33 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This state has so much blood on its hands that it makes me feel queasy when I vote.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:36 PM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

What were the words used to describe them, roughly?

Corrupt, killers, scary, etc... The mayans are not fond of them.
posted by empath at 9:37 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Apt descriptions, the lot of them. There is a long history of indigenous rights movements in the region being put down brutally.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:58 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

After seeing that cute drug-message mash-up from a few posts earlier I was left thinking "Yeah, funny, but now let's talk about killing some nuns in Central America.".

Or like Ironmouth simply put it: Reagan.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:11 AM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

My first reaction to this was to think, 'No shit.'

You mean it's finally getting some attention? Or is this going to be just another day, news tomorrow?

The US position on human rights is atrocious.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:29 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say it's good, exactly, to be reminded as to why I've loathed Reagan since I was a kid. But in these days of watching the GOP's decline into mass psychosis and finding it tempting to think, you know, maybe ol' Ronnie wasn't so bad after all, it's a useful tonic.
posted by scody at 12:33 AM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ronald 6 Wilson 6 Reagan 6
posted by moorooka at 1:36 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

empath, after we missed meeting up in Guatemala last summer I had a chance to visit the site of a massacre in Panabaj. There is still a URNG (successor to the EGP) mural alongside the memorial. There were fresh flowers on the gravestones. I'm not quite sure how to describe what it felt like as a US citizen to visit the site of an atrocity that our nation bears responsibility for. Everything that helps to educate about Guatemala's tragic history is appreciated. Thanks for this post.
posted by univac at 2:30 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Recent Le Monde diplomatique article on Guatemala.
posted by Abiezer at 2:57 AM on March 6, 2013

Everything that helps to educate about Guatemala's tragic history is appreciated.

Agreed. Especially given that it's hardly history. (More depressing info, and some slightly hopeful news. Something really neat from Guatemala, for balance.)
posted by eviemath at 4:39 AM on March 6, 2013

I was in Central America in the early 80's. I travelled a lot in the northern remote areas of Guatemala and it was some the scariest villages and towns I have ever seen. I came into one small village late at night and apparently the "army" (as the people referred to them) had just been through, and had killed several people. I was hustled in to a church for the night and hustled out of town the next day, at dawn. There was this air of fear and terror everywhere. The "army" would stop buses and drag young men off the buses, and the bus would just drive on in silence. News travelled through the truck and bus drivers - of where the "army" was; what town they had hit - who was missing etc... A few months later, when in Guatemala city, I joined some protests about the disappearances. I've been in a lot of war-torn countries before, and after Guatemala, but Guatemala still makes me shiver.
posted by what's her name at 7:14 AM on March 6, 2013

BlueHorse: "My first reaction to this was to think, 'No shit.'

You mean it's finally getting some attention? Or is this going to be just another day, news tomorrow?

The US position on human rights is atrocious.

Unless we're picking apart all the other countries that don't bow to our will (a la some of the anti-Chavez comments, then, of course, we totally know that the US is all for Democracy and Liberty, URah Rah...).
posted by symbioid at 8:08 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Related update-ified anecdatoids:

comment: Reagan

Yeah, Reagan really really wanted to do what his successors finally acheived. Old Cat'spaw, Old Whatmeworry Ronnie.

The history of our forays in Central America have a certain profile that, except for scale, resembles current goings on. Beneficiaries of Reaganomics still reap crops from the rich harvest that he planted.

For a glimpse of the gift that just keeps on giving, see Lara Jakes' article here:,george-bush

or read the report itself, in all its candid splendor, here:

When I was still a tadpole (my junior high school days), riots in Central America were in the news: Some of us remember when Nixon met with some disapproval on his visit there, before he was president. I didn't realize then, why those folks were so pissed off at "us." I still thought we were always the good guys. It took years of exposure (of this depressingly pervasive stuff) for me to see how often a few well-meaning Americans could swim in such foul waters. Some metaphysical force seems to be in play that draws the greedy together even across barriers of culture and language.

A handful of nuns, the occasional Jesuit, the rare visiting AID worker--they provide life for a few individuals. The rest are mulched. Magazine spreads log the depressing misery for millions of their readers, and somebody tries to build a school. But the bad actors prevail. The beat goes on.
posted by mule98J at 9:10 AM on March 6, 2013

The Latin American Exception: How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth
posted by homunculus at 3:57 PM on March 6, 2013

Genocide trial begins in Guatemala, for US-trained former dictator Rios Montt
posted by homunculus at 11:24 AM on March 20, 2013

On the Brink of Justice in Guatemala
posted by homunculus at 12:31 PM on March 28, 2013

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