Extermination in Guatemala

The following is from Creating a Desolation and Calling it Peace, the May 1983 supplement to the Americas Watch report on Guatemala.

On November 23, 1982, the Americas Watch published the report Human Rights in Guatemala: No Neutrals Allowed. The report was largely the result of a mission of inquiry to Guatemala and southern Mexico conducted by four representatives of the Americas Watch from October 17 to October 24, 1982. We concluded in that report that the government of President Efrain Ríos Montt had abandoned the rule of law and had imposed a rule that was both despotic and totalitarian. In particular, we reported that the Ríos Montt government recognizes no neutrals in its brutal counterinsurgency campaign against rural guerrillas. Instead, the government offers traditionally apolitical Indian peasants “fusiles y frijoles“—guns and beans—meaning that those who are with the government are fed; those who are not with it, as evidenced by failure to form civil patrols or to provide information on the whereabouts of guerrillas, may not be allowed to live.

Subsequent to the publication of our November 1982 report, newspaper accounts appeared claiming that the Ríos Montt government had succeeded in “pacifying” the Guatemalan countryside and in halting the killing. The US Department of State cited those newspaper accounts in support of its claim that human-rights abuses in Guatemala had been curtailed and that a resumption of US military assistance was therefore warranted. To investigate the accuracy of those claims, two members of the Executive Committee of the Americas Watch went to Mexico from March 4 to March 10, 1983, to determine whether refugees from Guatemala were continuing to cross the border and, if so, to find out why they had fled their homes.

The two members of the Americas Watch Executive Committee who conducted our March 1983 investigation in southern Mexico are Robert Kogod Goldman, professor of international law and director of the International Studies Program at the Washington College of Law of the American University in Washington, DC; and Stephen L. Kass, a partner in the New York City law firm of Berle, Butzel, Kass, and Case, a past chairman of the Committee on Inter-American Affairs of the Bar of the City of New York, and a former member of the Bar Association’s executive committee.

Aryeh Neier
Vice-Chairman, Americas Watch

Note: Variations in spellings of place names are possible. Many of these names are of Indian origin. In some instances we have provided phonetic spellings derived from our notes and tapes of interviews with refugees.

It is the view of the Americas Watch, based on direct testimony and other relevant information that we have gathered, that the human-rights situation in Guatemala has not improved, but, if anything, has deteriorated since November 1982. We arrive at this conclusion for the following reasons:

  1. The Guatemalan government’s counterinsurgency program, begun in early 1982, has been continued and expanded by the Ríos Montt government and remains in effect at this time.

  2. A principal feature of this …

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