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National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 32

Versión en Español

The Guatemalan Military:
What the U.S. Files Reveal
Photo still from U.S. Army film shot in 1965. U.S. military advisers confer as Col. Carlos Arana Osorio and an aide look on

Index of Military Units

List of Military Units

List of Military Officers

Volume I:
Units and Officers of the Guatemalan Army
By Carlos Osorio
Research Associate

Related Links:

Guatemala Documentation Project

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The two lists, which appear in Volume I of this publication, are extracts from a database constructed by the National Security Archive with information obtained from declassified U.S. documents. The first is a list of the command of 79 units that played key roles during the counterinsurgency. The second is a list of positions occupied by a selection of 232 military officers, who held key positions in the top leadership, or the intelligence apparatus, of the Guatemalan Army.

The database on the Guatemalan Army consists of around seven thousands entries, each describing a moment in the career of an officer. Each entry contains the name of an officer, a unit, and a position and the known dates with a degree of certainty. The entries are based on our analysis of nearly 10,000 declassified documents from different U.S. agencies, primarily from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the agency that collects and processes information obtained by defense attachés and other military officials.

During four years, half a dozen researchers at the National Security Archive selected more than one thousand of these documents and meticulously entered the most pertinent  information into the database: the date when someone began or ended a position, the date in which someone was noted in one position or another, etc. Later, we integrated the entries that corresponded to different moments within the same position and unit and established codes designating a degree of certainty (see the table of “Codes of Probability of Dates”.)

Today, the database allows cross-referencing of information on nearly 2000 officers, 300 units and 300 positions, from a broad range of documents. Some like the General Oders assignments and biographical sketches provide very precise information, while others may only mention in passing that an officer, for example, was previously the chief of an analytical cell of the Intelligence Directorate. With information that comes from the 1960s until the 1990s, the database, for example, permits one to print chronological lists of the chiefs of the Quetzaltenango Brigade, of Military Zone 22 in Playa Grande or of the Directorate of Intelligence (D-2). Alternatively, one can list the positions held by people like General Héctor Alejandro Gramajo, former Minister of Defense; the Ex-Chief of the Army General Staff, Benedicto Lucas García; or of the former Sub-chief of the “Archivo,” Coronel Juan Oliva Carrera.

Clearly, this compilation is only an approximation of the official list of positions and commands of the Guatemalan Army. It is in no way the last word on which officer was in command of a unit in an exact moment. Nor do we pretend that the database contains all the commands of the Guatemalan Army throughout the years. The information presented here is merely an attempt to organize in a logical manner information gleaned form the reporting of the Department of State, the U.S. Embassy, the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies.

When the equivalent was known, we freely translated the units and positions as they were described in the official U.S. cables. In some instances, names were created for units or positions to be able to record some information that otherwise could have been lost. In such cases, we marked these values with an asterisk. For example, a biographic sketch of Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez reads “destacamentos de Icia en diferentes areas de Opns”. This was recorded by creating a unit – “Area de operaciones*” –  and a position – “Destacamentos de Inteligencia*.”

Sometimes US officials made mistakes in the documents. Often it took them a while to place a new unit name. In some cases for example there was confusion between the Army General Staff (el Estado Mayor General del Ejército) and the Cuartel General; between the Military Zone in Quiché (Military Zone 8 in the 1960s and 1970s) and the Military Zone in Puerto Barrios (Military Zone 8 in the 1980s). One of the changes that provoked confusion in reports from U.S. officials occurred  in May 1983, when the Guatemalan Army adopted a change in military zones. During that reorganization, the Army General Staff (Estado Mayor General del Ejército) became the National Defense General Staff (Estado General de la Defensa Nacional) and the sections G1, G2, G3, G4 and G5 became directorates D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5. We believe that we have unraveled the primary confusions.

Nevertheless, the database is an instrument of astonishing precision. A measure of the solidity of the information contained within the database, is shown by comparing it to a list we obtained of around 300 commanders of principal units collected by one of the organizations from the URNG. The result was a concurrence in 95% of the listed positions.

In another example, when comparing the c.v. of Colonel Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera that was publicly published by the Ministry of Defense, with the biographic sketch from the DIA, one observes a remarkable consistency and understands how the information from the declassified documents adds precision and complements the information published in Guatemala. The following table compares information released by the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense (marked on the table with the initials “MDN” in the fourth column) with that pulled from U.S. sources about Colonel Oliva Carrera. (Some lines have been shaded to facilitate reading.)

Download the Table

To get an idea of how we processed the information from the above table, please look for Colonel Oliva Carrera in the list of officers. During all the processing of information, we applied very rigorous standards to the integration of  data found in different documents. In the previous case, we integrated the entries that said Jefe de Contrainteligencia” and “Jefe de Negociado de Contrainteligencia.” However, we left alone those entries that said “Jefe de Operaciones” and “Jefe de Negociado,” lacking more information suggesting that these last two refer to the same position. It must be said here as well that in various cases information arose that was contradictory when, for example, two officers appear to command the same unit at the same time. This information is included, as is, in the database and in the lists we are presenting here.

The large majority of documents upon which this database is based are declassified documents from U.S. intelligence agencies. Although various documents that we have obtained bear the seal of the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense, these were also obtained through declassification. In some cases a report from the military attaché, listing the most recent changes inside the army, is followed by an official Guatemalan list. The only documents that we obtained from Guatemalan sources, and included in the database, are three c.v.’s: those of Colonel Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera, General Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán and Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio.

Finally, one must remark that the dates are also approximations, and that in the list we have used a series of acronyms and contractions that must be considered probable values. The codes follow in the table below.

Codes of Probability of Dates

Comenzó EN  began on

Comenzó AD  began before

Comenzó DD  began after

Terminó ENended on

Terminó ADended before

Terminó DDended after

Eec. ENin this post on

Eec. ADin this post before

Eec. DDin this post after

Eam. ENTRE  on some date between [date 1] and [date 2]

1) The officers are organized alphabetically using an English set of characters. Thus, searches have to take into account that the vowel sequence is the following: a, e, i, o, u, á, é, í, ó, ú. In this logic, last names will be listed as follows: Perussina, Pinto, Ponce, Porres, Pérez, and so forth.
2) The units are listed as they often appear in the General Orders.
3) Accents were used in units and names if they were known.
4) Whenever a day or a month has a value of zero, it means they were unknown.

The following files are in Rich Text Format (RTF) and may take a moment to download:

Index of Military Units

List of Military Units

List of Military Officers


The Guatemalan Military: What the U.S. Files Reveal

Volume II: The Documents


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