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The Guatemalan Genocide

Samantha Happ

General Overview
More than 200,000 people were killed over the course of the 36-year-long civil war that
began in 1960 and ended with peace accords in 1996. About 83 percent of those killed
were Mayan, according to a 1999 report written by the U.N.-backed Commission for
Historical Clarification titled Guatemala: Memory of Silence. The report also
concluded that the vast majority, 93 percent, of human rights violations perpetrated
during the conflict were carried out by state forces and military groups.
U.S. involvement in the country was also singled out by the commission as a key factor
contributing to human rights violations, including training of officers in
counterinsurgency techniques and assisting the national intelligence apparatus.

Definition of Genocide
The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and
III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.
1) the mental element, meaning the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national,
ethnical, racial or religious group, as such", and
2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A
crime must include both elements to be called "genocide."

Killing members of the group;

Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

U.S. Involvement in the Conflict

1954 The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency backed a coup commanded by Colonel
Carlos Castillo Armas against the democratically-elected president, Jacobo Arbenz. He
was considered a communist threat, especially after legalizing the communist party
and moving to nationalize the plantations of the United Fruit Company.
Following the coup, Castillo was declared president, and set about reversing land
reforms that benefited poor farmers. He also removed voting rights for illiterate

1960 Guatemalas 36-year civil war began as left-wing guerilla groups started battling
government military forces. The country was now under autocratic rule by Gen.
Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, who assumed power in 1958 following the murder of Col.
Castillo Armas.
The long conflict was marked by abductions and violence, including mutilations and
public dumping of bodies.
1966 Civilian rule was restored to Guatemala and Cesar Mendez was elected
president, but the civil war only intensified with a major counterinsurgency campaign
by the army.


1981 The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report blaming the
Guatemalan government for thousands of illegal executions and missing persons in the
1970s, and documenting accounts of the slaughter of members of Indian communities.
1982 General Efrain Rios Montt seized power following a military coup. He annulled
the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress and suspended political parties.
Montt formed local civilian defense patrols alongside the military in the country and
rural indigenous regions, through which he was able to reclaim most guerrilla territory.
This crackdown against the newly-united coalition, the Guatemalan Revolutionary
National Unity, marks one of the most violent periods of the civil war during which a
large number of indigenous civilians killed.

Genocide & State Terrorism - The Silent Holocaust

Rio Negro (1980-1984)

indigenous communities (Mayan & Achi)

Rabinal, Verapaz - Scorched Earth and Firing Squads

Path to Peace
1985 A new constitution was drafted and democratic elections for president resumed
two years after Montt was ousted in another coup.
1993 Then-President Jorge Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme
Court and restricted civil rights, but was later forced to resign.
1994 Under President Ramiro De Leon Carpio, the former human rights
ombudsman, peace talks between the government and rebels of the Guatemalan
Revolutionary National Unity began and agreements were signed on several issues
including human rights.
1996 A new president, Alvaro Arzu, was chosen in a runoff election. Under Arzu
peace negotiations were finalized. Peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict
were signed in December of 1996.

Guatemala Today
Guatemala's 36-year armed conflict ended nearly ten years ago. The goal of the
December 1996 Peace Accords was a state based on the rule of law, but today
Guatemala continues to be crushed by the rule of impunity, as well as extreme social
inequality, and one of the highest levels of violent crime anywhere in Latin America.

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