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Bad education: U.S. training of Guatemalan military leaders is just one example PDF Print E-mail
In response to overwhelming evidence that the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) has trained Latin American military personnel in civilian-targeted terrorism, representatives of the school have come up with numerous creative excuses and denials. Perhaps the most commonly used argument is that the hundreds of SOA graduates who have become dictators and human rights violators are only ?a few bad apples? out of the thousands who have graduated from the school. However, the involvement of SOA graduates in the most brutal period of Guatemala?s counterinsurgency war demonstrated that there were more than a few.

As in most Latin American countries where civilian populations have been terrorized, the intellectual authors of repression, as well as the most brutal practitioners, received their training at the U.S. school.

On the weekend of Nov. 19, a contingent of Vermonters will join other activists at the SOA site in Columbus, GA, for an annual demonstration. A local rally will be held in Montpelier at 11 a.m. this Saturday.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Guatemala?s government responded to demands for justice by organizations like the Committee for Peasant Unity by implementing a systematic campaign of repression and terror. According to a UN Truth Commission report, this included ?acts of genocide? against the Maya population.

Named a ?scorched earth policy,? the strategy was that instead of trying to find the ?insurgents? fighting for democracy, they would kill nearly everyone in the predominantly Maya regions of the country. According to former SOA instructor Major Joseph Blair, these tactics were taught at the SOA and based in part on Vietnam War experience.

?Scorched earth? tactics began under the dictatorship of Romeo Lucas Garcia, an SOA graduate. Four of the eight military officials in his cabinet also attended the school. The main perpetrators at first were Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas Garcia, an SOA grad, and Minister of Defense Anibal Guevara, who both attended and subsequently served as a guest instructor.

Massacres and torture were most often conducted in public, with the army choosing market days, religious holidays, and other times when many people would be present. Testimony from a Catholic Church Truth Report provides a glimpse:

?The helicopter came and flew over Cuarto Pueblo. At first, the people were frightened and left, but then the helicopter flew off and the people came back to the market. They didn?t realize that the soldiers were approaching and surrounding the people. They had them congregated there for about two days. And the soldiers put wires red, red hot from the fire into them, stuck into the mouths and all the way down into their stomachs. They kicked others, not caring if it was a little child or a woman, or if she was pregnant. They didn?t spare anyone there.?

During this time the government had an extensive, technologically advanced intelligence gathering system that included eavesdropping, spying, and infiltration of groups working for social justice. This allowed it to gather the names of people to be targeted for assassination and torture.

Hector Montalban and Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, who headed the Guatemalan intelligence agency D-2 (known as ?La Dos?) under Lucas, both studied at the SOA. Other intelligence chiefs who attended the school include Francisco Ortega Menaldo and Cesar Augusto Cabrera. The name ?La Dos? still sparks fear throughout the country, and it?s rumored that prisoners are still taken from jails for torture sessions.

In a chapter titled ?D-2: The Very Name of Fear,? the Guatemalan Catholic Church?s ?Nunca Mas? report states that Guatemalan military intelligence played ?a central role in the conduct of military operations, in massacres, extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances and torture ... It conducted extensive espionage and information-gathering operations by tapping telephones and operating a sophisticated computer network containing files on people, complete with their photographs, and information on their political and organizational affiliations.?

As well as the aforementioned directors, numerous SOA graduates in D-2 leadership posts are mentioned in the report. Among them are Federico Sobalvarro Meza, Cesar Quinteros Alvarado, Luis Felipe Caballeros Meza, Harry Ponce, Francisco Edgar Dominguez Lopez, Eduardo Ochoa Barrios, Domingo Velasquez Axpuac and Jose Manuel Rivas Rios.

The dictatorship of Lucas was overthrown by SOA grad Efrain Rios Montt, arguably the most notorious and brutal of the country?s dictators. Montt?s coup was co-led by SOA students Egberto Horacio Maldonado Schaad and Francisco Gordillo Martinez.

Six of the nine military officers in Montt?s cabinet also received SOA training. Montt often used the Kaibiles, the most elite Guatemalan military unit, to conduct what has been described as genocide. Both Kaibiles commanders under Montt, Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, and its founder Pablo Nuila Hub, attended the SOA.

An example of the Kaibiles? brutality come from Dos Erres. On the morning of Dec. 6, 1982, dozens of Kaibiles entered the town and ?raped women and girls, ripped fetuses from bodies of pregnant women and killed children by clubbing their heads or bashing them against walls.? More than 300 unarmed civilians were killed.

One of the few Guatemalan military officials actually tried has been General Hector Gramajo, yet another SOA grad. Although he has never served jail time or paid a fine, a 1995 US District Court concluded that ?at a minimum, Gramajo was aware of and supported widespread acts of brutality committed by personnel under his command resulting in thousands of civilian deaths.?

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a U.S. nun, Sr. Dianna Ortiz, and several Guatemalan refugees who claimed Gramajo knew of and tried to cover up their torture while he was defense minister. Ortiz had been gang raped, burned over 100 times with cigarettes, put in pit with bodies of ?children, women, and men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive, and all swarming with rats.? Ortiz also had her hand held on a small machete while it was thrust into another prisoner.

Gramajo is famous for saying that he?s a moderate, since before him the plan was to kill 100 percent of the population, but his strategy ?provides development for 70 percent of the population, while we kill 30 percent.? Two years after covering up Ortiz?s torture, Gramajo was the commencement speaker at the SOA Command and General Staff College.

Despite this record, the SOA is still open, although now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation ? the fourth name the institution has adopted during its nearly 60-year existence. And, as an anti-imperialist movement grows in South America, it still plays a role in training Latin American military officers for future ?counterinsurgency? work.

For more information, call 426-3783 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more on anti-SOA organizing near you, go to http://www.soaw.org/.

Cabot resident Palmer Legare is a member of the SOA Watch Council.

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