---Robert F. Drinan, S.J. Georgetown University Law Center
The Mayan Indians comprise 50-60% of the population of Guatemala, which has the largest extant indigenous population of any country in the Western Hemisphere. The first language of the Mayan Indians is one of several Mayan dialects. Most of them cannot speak anything other than rudimentary Spanish and are illiterate and barefoot. There are different Mayan subgroups in Guatemala: the main "tribes," so to speak, are the K'ekchi, Quiche, Ixil, Cahiquel and Mam. Each group has their own style of distinctive, traditional dress which the women still wear on a day-to-day basis and the men during ceremonial occasions or special events. The K'ekchi women wear a white huipil (blouse) with turquoise blue embroidery and a turquoise blue, pleated corte (skirt.) Other women wear bright red wrap around skirts and elaborate headdresses. The traditional dress for the men from Solola includes bright red-and-white striped pants.
I worked in the fields with the Maya, bantered back and forth with them in their markets, went to their funerals and lived in their villages, which had no electricity, telephones, hot water or sewers. They are generous, forgiving, love to laugh and love the land. They were my friends.
The poverty among the Maya of Guatemala is the greatest in the Western Hemisphere except for Haiti. Every day I saw at least one child that was dying of malnutrition or starvation. Chickens running loose among the Mayan huts would follow toddlers sick with dysentery, waiting for them to drop their drawers and discharge the diarrhea. The chickens would then pounce on the discharged tape worms. When a kid had a fever, the tape worms would try to escape and end up crawling out their throats and then their mouths. Many children and adults died of dysentery, malaria and tuberculosis.
The "Conquest" of the Maya
I like to think of the K'ekchi Maya as never having been militarily defeated. When Cortez was conquering Aztec Mexico, he sent Pedro de Alvarado to Guatemala. Alvarado defeated the Quiche Maya and Tecum Uman in a very bloody battle in the Guatemalan Highlands near Antigua. Alvarado, however, was defeated time and again when he tried to make gains against the K'ekchi in the eastern highlands. The land was too forbidding, the K'ekchi too fierce. A priest, Bartolome de las Casas, petitioned and received approval from the Spanish Crown to try a new approach with the K'eckchi, to convert them through peace, friendship and brotherly love. Las Casas went without any troops to engage the K'ekchi in peace and was successful in offering a hand of friendship. The K'ekchi all converted (and have remained nominally Catholic since that time, although when they pray to the Virgin Mary they are in their view worshipping the Moon goddess.) The K'ekchi province of Guatemala is now known as the Alta Verapaz, the land of true peace. But the Spanish troops used Las Casas to set up a council to where all the K' ekchi royalty were to assemble. Alvarado then killed them all and burned all their writings. Las Casas had become an unwitting Trojan Horse.
In 1954, a CIA coup topples the Guatemalan Democracy at the insistence of United Fruit Company
During the years 1944 through 1954 Guatemala enjoyed its Decade of Spring as a Democracy. In 1954, a CIA coup toppled the democratically-elected Arbenz government and installed instead a hand-picked dictator. The United Fruit Company had complained about an Arbenz land policy in which the government was to acquire fallow United Fruit Company land for redistribution to the Maya. The government was to compensate United Fruit Company for the land by paying it the amount of money it had declared it was worth for tax purposes. However, one of the members of United Fruit Company's Board of Directors was Allen Dulles, head of the CIA, and its former Wall Street lawyer was John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State. There were no ties to the Soviet Union. "The Soviets made one contact with the Arbenz government, an attempt to buy bananas. The deal fell through when the Guatemalans could not arrange transport without help from United Fruit Company." Nick Cullather, who wrote the official history of the 1954 coup for the CIA, p. 27 n. 33. (Emphasis Added.) Nevertheless, the U.S. labeled Guatemala a communist country and destroyed its democracy.
E. Howard Hunt of later Watergate infamy was one of the CIA agents involved in the 1954 coup. He was all gung-ho on fighting communism but he stated in an interview with CNN that he "felt betrayed" because he discovered he was a mere "hireling of United Fruit."
The idealistic Left of Latin America had descended on Guatemala with enthusiasm; they were going to change society for the better through democracy. Among the bitterly disillusioned was a young doctor who had been in Guatemala trying to get a medical post in the Mayan highlands. After witnessing the coup firsthand, Dr. Ernesto "Che" Guevara decided that change could only be accomplished through armed revolution. Other members of the disillusioned Left were the Mexican artist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, who got off her death bed for her final public appearance to protest the coup.
The election of Reagan and the unleashing of the Holocaust
In 1980, many wanted Ronald Reagan elected to get tough on communism. The effect on Guatemala would be devastating. Before the U.S. election in 1980, wealthy Guatemalan businessmen were hoping for a Reagan victory. Here are some excerpts from an August 24, 1980 article in the New York Times Magazine, Guatemala: State of Siege by Alan Hilding:
They [powerful Guatemalans] are therefore lobbying conservative United States Congressman and gambling that a Reagan victory in November will revitalize Washington's traditional policy of "anti-Communism" in Central America.
Some conservative Guatemalans, who boast close contacts with the Reagan campaign have even called for a rupture of diplomatic relations with the United States while Carter is in the White House. P. 8.
And here are some additional comments prior to Reagan's election:
Could there have been any doubt what a Reagan administration would mean for Guatemala?
The Guatemaln Holocaust is documented
In 1996, the parties signed the Peace Accords ending the bloody civil war. The Catholic Church then commenced a detailed investigation into the numerous atrocities, acts of barbarity and murders of civilians that had occurred, and released its findings in a report published by the Archdiocese of Guatemala entitled Guatemala: Never Again! On April 24, 1998, Archbishop Juan Gerardi announced the findings of the Catholic Church from the pulpit in Guatemala City, stating that 90% of the deaths had been caused by the Guatemalan military. He finished his sermon with the following:
"I don't know," he answered. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Yahweh replied, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Gn 4:9-10). p. xxv.
Two days later Archbishop Gerardi was murdered. The following are witness statements from the Archidiocese's report:
They buried the ones that the army killed. They were decapitated with a tourniquet around the throat. They crumpled them up, they handled them like little balls. There were three-year-old children. We went to see. We saw them, three kids, they were hanging there without any heads. Their little dolls were behind them. Case 1367, Sacapulas, Quiche, 1981. p. 33.
Here are two accounts from the soldiers:
We found a woman, I called a soldier and I told him: "Take charge of the woman, she is a present from the second lieutenant." "Understood, Corporal," he answered, and he called the boys and said: "There's meat, guys." So they came and grabbed the girl. They took her little boy from her and they all raped her. It was gang rape. Afterward, I told them to kill the woman first so she wouldn't feel so bad about the death of her son. Key Source 027 (perpetrator), 1982.
There are many, many more witness statements in the Gerardi report.
The U.S. government trained the officer corps of the Guatemalan Army at the School of the Americas located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The Intelligence Oversight Board investigated U.S. operations in Guatemala. The following paragraph was found in its report:
And that is just what the Department of Defense is willing to admit to. On March 11, 1999, the Washington Post reported on the declassification of documents involving U.S. government's complicity in the killing of civilians in Guatemala. Here is an excerpt:
In describing one episode, which occurred shortly before it was written, the cable reported that "several villages have been burned to the ground." It continued, "The well-documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is [pro-guerilla] has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and noncombatants alike."
How did the Mayans deal with the death and torture? Here is the account of a K'ekchi Mayan woman named Marina that is found in Victor Perera's Unfinished Conquest: The Guatemalan Tragedy (p. xv.):
The Mayans forgive.
Republican Hypocrisy on Iraq and more Death Squads
We know there were no WMD in Iraq and no connection to 9/11. The justification is now about installing democracy in Iraq and the purported protection of human rights. The Republicans clamor about the massacres under Saddam Hussein. What they do not mention is that those massacres ceased in 1991 when the U.S. instituted a no-fly zone in the North to protect the Kurds and a no-fly zone in the South to protect the Shia. The no-fly zones worked: all the mass graves date from that time period or earlier.
Well, the Republicans argue, Saddam Hussein still deserved to get it for what he had done in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, however, the U.S. government was still supporting a Guatemalan government that was torturing and killing its own people. Indeed, Sister Dianna Ortiz was abducted, raped and tortured in 1989. An American who spoke English with an American accent (Sr. Dianna was a U.S. cirizen from New Mexico) was in charge of her torturers.
Now the Republicans are dusting off the Hit Squads in El Salvador and saying that torture is an option. They say that the "bad guys" deserve getting the same treatment they dish out. They assume, of course, that they will only kill and torture those who are guilty. Yet, the torture of Sr. Dianna and the assassination of Archbishop Romero while he was celebrating mass in El Salvador, and the 1981 massacre at El Mozote prove otherwise. Once you become the torturers and murderers you lose all humanity and become your enemy. This is what the K'ekchi Mayan woman Marina, quoted above, knew but what the conservatives running our country never seem to learn.