home | about | documents | news | publications | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 32

Versión en Español

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

Volume II

Photo still from U.S. Army film shot in 1965. U.S. military advisors confer as Col. Carlos Arana Osorio and an aide look on.

[From left to right: Sgt. Casper González, U.S. infantry advisor; U.S. Army intelligence advisor Major Vernon Justice; unidentified Guatemalan soldier; and Col. Carlos Arana Osorio.]

Related Links:

Guatemala Documentation Project

Bookmark and Share

Document 1

January 4, 1966
[U.S. Counter-Terror Assistance to Guatemalan Security Forces]
Agency for International Development, secret cable

U.S. Public Safety Advisor John Longan, on temporary loan from his post in Venezuela, assists the Guatemalan government in establishing an urban “counter-terror” task force in the wake of a rash of kidnappings for ransom by insurgent organizations. During meetings with senior military and police officials, Longan advises how to establish overt and covert operations, including the design of “frozen area plans” for police raids, setting up road blocks within the capital, and creating a “safe house” in the Presidential Palace to centralize information gathered on the kidnappings.  Longan’s strategy calls for the CIA to launch a new, long-range intelligence program, and urges U.S. police advisors to increase their influence on Guatemalan security forces.

[Note:  In the document, CAS is an acronym for “Covert Action Staff,” the operational arm of the CIA Station in Guatemala.]

Document 2

March 1966
[Interrogation and Execution of Five Prisoners]
CIA, secret cable

The CIA Station in Guatemala reports the capture, interrogation and secret execution of five persons who had crossed “illegally” into Guatemala from Mexico in early March 1966.  This document evaluates the accuracy of the information extracted from the victims during two days of torture following their arrest on March 3, and prior to their murder at the hands of Guatemalan security officers the next day.  Among those executed is Leonardo Castillo Flores, a “top leader” of both the Guatemalan Workers’ Party (PGT) and the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), the military arm of the PGT.

Document 3

March 1966
[Death List]
CIA, secret cable

The CIA Station in Guatemala City reports the secret execution of several Guatemalan “communists and terrorists” by Guatemalan authorities on the night of March 6, 1966.  The victims--the leader of the Guatemalan Workers’ Party (PGT), Victor Manuel Gutiérrez, among them--are several of the more than 30 PGT members and associates abducted, tortured, and killed by Guatemalan security forces in March of 1966. This operation was a direct consequence of urban “counter-terror” tactics designed by U.S. officials in support of the Peralta government.  It became notorious as the first case of forced mass “disappearance” in Guatemala’s history--indeed in all of Latin America—and served as one of the “Casos Ilustrativos” in the 1999 report of the historical Clarification Commission.

Document 4

December 3, 1966
[Request for Special Training]
Department of State, secret cable

U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Guatemala Viron Vaky forwards to Washington the text of a cable the embassy received from the SOUTHCOM Commander-in-Chief, General Robert W. Porter.  Porter’s cable describes a request made to him by the Guatemalan Vice Defense Minister, Colonel Francisco Sosa Avila, for U.S. assistance in the covert training of special kidnapping squads that would target leftists. Although Porter declines, he does not hesitate to recommend that the United States “fully support current police improvement programs and initiate military psychological warfare training and additional counterinsurgency operations training.”  Vaky is troubled by these requests, noting that, “In present complicated situation we might unwittingly contribute to instability rather than help when we extend aid.”

Document 5

October 23, 1967
Guatemala:  A Counter-Insurgency Running Wild?
Department of State, secret intelligence note

Thomas L. Hughes of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research questions the current Guatemalan government’s ability to control military and police forces in light of “accumulating evidence that the counter-insurgency machine is out of control.”  The document describes some of the methods utilized in Guatemala’s “successful” campaign, including “overt and covert operations by the Guatemalan security forces and right wing civilian associates,” and the formation of clandestine counter-terrorist units to carry out abductions, bombings, torture, and executions “of real and alleged communists.”

Document 6

circa November 1967
[Special Commando Unit of the Guatemalan Army - SCUGA]
CIA, secret information report

The CIA Station in Guatemala reports that SCUGA, the Guatemalan Army’s urban counter-terrorist squad, plans to expand its operations to include an intelligence-gathering network.  The new unit will collect information through the arrest and interrogation of “communist revolutionaries,” and recruit informants from those captured.  Its members will also carry out “special assignments” upon occasion, including the assassination of local civil authority figures deemed subversive.

Document 7

February 1968
[Guatemalan Security Forces Kill Four]
CIA, secret information report

Members of the Fourth Corps of the National Police apprehend and execute four suspected subversives: Rafael Tischler Guzmán, Cayetano Barreno Juarez, Julio César Armas González, and Enrique de la Torre Morel. In an effort to cover up the operation, the Guatemalan security forces feed a false story to the press stating that there had been a gunfight with the victims after the security forces discovered weapons and subversive propaganda.

Document 8

March 29, 1968
Guatemala and Counter-terror
Department of State, secret memorandum

Viron Vaky, now back in Washington with the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, writes an extraordinary indictment of U.S. policy in Guatemala in a memorandum to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Covey Oliver.  Vaky argues that the Guatemalan government’s use of counter-terror is indiscriminate and brutal, and has impeded modernization and institution building within the country.  Furthermore, he writes, the United States has condoned such tactics.  “This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried.  Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is alright.  Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are Communists.”  Vaky urges a new policy in Guatemala that rejects counter-terror and represents a “clear ethical stand” on the part of the United States.

In a news interview 30 years later, Vaky said he doubted anyone in the State Department ever read his memorandum.  In any event, Vaky went on to a long and successful career as a professional foreign service officer, serving in Latin America and elsewhere.

Document 9

April 1968
[Continued Guatemalan Counterinsurgency Measures]
CIA, secret cable

The CIA Station in Guatemala reports that recent changes in the high command of the Guatemalan army are part of a government effort to streamline counterinsurgency operations and bring security forces under tighter control.  While the clandestine activities of the Fourth Corps of the National Police are to end, the government plans to retain selected Fourth Corps personnel for future operations.  SCUGA (the Special Commando Unit of the Guatemalan Army) will continue, but will be used on a “more limited basis.”  The government also hopes to disarm anti-communist civilian groups in the northeast.

Document 10

July 1968
[Cover-up Strategies for Counterinsurgency Operations]
CIA, secret cable

A source tells the CIA Station in Guatemala that, in order to avoid future “unfavorable publicity,” all insurgents who are killed by Guatemalan security forces should appear to have died in an armed clash, regardless of how they actually perished.  A judge, the source insists, should be called to the scene of the “encounter” as often as possible to confirm these fabrications.

Document 11

circa 1968/69
[Assessment of Guatemalan Counterinsurgency]
AID, secret report

This analysis proposes that U.S. security assistance to Guatemala focus on the internal security crisis posed by the insurgency, and evaluates the capacity of the country’s military, intelligence and police units to overcome it.  Included is a description of the institutional precursor to the Archivos – the “National Security Subversive Activities Group,” staffed by officers “trained under U.S. programs” – which gathers intelligence by infiltrating guerrilla groups, tapping phones, monitoring private mail, and coordinating with other Central American intelligence services.  The document also recommends that a Joint Operations Center (JOC) be established in the Presidential Palace to serve as a central facility “where all available intelligence on insurgent personalities and their activities is collected and collated.”

Document 12

May 19, 1970
[Ojo por Ojo]
Department of State, secret cable

U.S. Ambassador Nathaniel Davis reports on the activities of a new “death squad” that calls itself Ojo por Ojo (Eye for Eye), “the extreme right’s response to the violence of the left.” Ojo is composed primarily of “the vestigial remains of SCUGA,” and maintains a “largely military membership with some civilian cooperation.”  Motivated by disgust at what it considers the government’s failure to act decisively against the guerrillas, Ojo has brutally tortured and murdered at least 10 suspected subversives.  A handwritten annotation on the document by an unidentified U.S. official says, “This is what we were afraid of with increased public safety support.”

Document 13

January 12, 1971
Guatemalan Antiterrorist Campaign
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret intelligence bulletin

In the midst of what would become a year-long state of siege imposed by President Carlos Arana Osorio, this document reports that Guatemalan security forces have “quietly eliminated” hundreds of “terrorists and bandits,” mainly in the countryside, encouraging Arana “to extend the state of siege indefinitely.”  In Guatemala City, police apprehend or kill “about 30 suspected terrorists,” including a senior Communist Party member.  The bulletin also notes that the army has closed all roads leading from the capital and is conducting house-to-house searches for suspected leftist subversives.

Document 14

June 13, 1972
Armed Forces:  Army G-2 Organization
Department of Defense, secret intelligence information report

A description of the organization and functions of the army’s intelligence directorate in mid-1972, this report calls the G2 “small and ineffective,” but notes that the government is reluctant to improve it due to its history of “conducting investigations of a personal nature on high-ranking officers and other key Government officials.”

Document 15

December 17, 1974
Biographic Data on LTC Elias Osmundo RAMIREZ Cervantes,
Guatemalan Army
Department of Defense, confidential intelligence information report

This biographic sketch of the former chief of the Archivos under Arana Osorio details his personal history and military career.  As head of the Presidential Intelligence Service, Ramírez Cervantes was responsible for planning and conducting raids on insurgent groups, interrogation, surveillance, and monitoring travelers coming into and leaving Guatemala.  According to the document, his background includes instruction at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Maryland.

Document 16

November 1979
Military Intelligence Summary (MIS), Volume VIII: Latin America [extract]
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret summary

This intelligence report describes the efforts of President Fernando Romeo Lucas García to deal with the growing insurgency at a time when military relations with the United States have cooled due to Guatemala’s poor human rights record.  The document notes the resurgence of death-squad activities and the increasing level of violence against political opposition and labor groups in Guatemala City.  The army has also conducted counterinsurgency operations in the Quiché, “but has been unable to exert any real pressure or achieve a decisive action.”  U.S. insistence on linking security assistance to human rights, the report suggests, has convinced the Guatemalans to seek other sources of aid and equipment – including aircraft from Switzerland, training from Israel, and new weapons from Belgium, South Korea and France.

Document 17

April 1981
[Guatemalan Soldiers Kill Civilians in Cocob]
CIA, secret cable

The CIA provides an account of a massacre that occurred in the village of Cocob on April 17, 1981.  In an effort to track down a unit of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), believed to have ambushed an army patrol two days before, a reinforced company of airborne troops entered the village and encountered “a large and unruly crowd of villagers” that “appeared to fully support the guerrillas.”  Many non-combatants were killed in the ensuing firefight.  “The soldiers,” one source explains, “were forced to fire at anything that moved.”

Document 18

October 5, 1981
Guatemala:  What Next?
Department of State, secret memorandum

In a 1981 meeting with General Vernon Walters, President Lucas García made it clear that, despite U.S. pressure on human rights, “the repression will continue . . . and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed” with or without U.S. military assistance.  In this memo, Robert L. Jacobs, an official from the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, argues that the U.S. should distance itself from the Lucas government’s repressive policies.  If Lucas is wrong, and the failure of repression becomes evident over time, Jacobs suggests, the government “will have no choice but to seek political and military assistance from the U.S. more or less on our terms.”  But if Lucas is right, and successfully exterminates the guerrillas, “there is no need for the U.S. to implicate itself in the repression by supplying the GOG [Government of Guatemala] with security assistance.”  Normal relations can then be reestablished.

Document 19

February 5, 1982
DCI Watch Committee Report
CIA, top secret report

A special CIA committee report predicts that Guatemalan military operations planned for the Ixil region of El Quiché are likely to produce “major clashes” with guerrillas and “serious human rights abuses by the armed forces.”  General Benedicto Lucas García, the army chief of staff, has indicated that “it probably will be necessary to destroy a number of villages.”

Document 20

February 1982
[Counterinsurgency Operations in El Quiché]
CIA, secret cable

Army massacres continue in the final days before Lucas is ousted in a military coup.  This cable from the CIA Station describes a Guatemalan army “sweep” operation through the Ixil Triangle in El Quiché.  The aim of the operation is to destroy all towns and villages suspected of supporting the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP).  According to the cable’s author, the army has yet to encounter a major guerrilla force in the area, and its successes have been limited to the destruction of entire villages and the killing of Indians suspected of collaborating or sympathizing with the rebels.  The army’s belief that the entire indigenous population of Ixil supports the guerrillas “has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”

Document 21

April 16, 1982
Guatemala/Continuing Machinations Within the Armed Forces
Defense Intelligence Agency, confidential cable

In an effort to consolidate his power base within the armed forces and prevent a possible countercoup against his nascent military junta, General José Efraín Ríos Montt – who seized power in March – issues General Order Number 10, reassigning approximately 400 military officers.  This cable identifies two groups of junior Guatemalan military officers that remain dissatisfied with the present situation: 1) those who supported Rios Montt’s coup but believe he is wavering over the call for elections, and 2) those who did not support the coup and have suffered as a result.  The document also reports that the National Liberation Movement (MLN), a right-wing political party, is courting both of these dissatisfied factions in an effort to first divide the military “and then take over the reins of government when the junta falls.”  Other officers – primarily those outside the capital – have remained outside the political power struggle and are more concerned about the recent “lull” in offensive operations against the guerrillas.  A “serious division . . . within the armed forces,” the document warns, would allow the guerrillas “to walk into Guatemala City unmolested.”

Document 22

May 10, 1982
Guatemala/Turbulence in the Military
Defense Intelligence Agency, confidential cable

Two months after seizing power in a military coup, General Ríos Montt continues to strengthen his hand by rooting out those officers believed to be involved in countercoup plotting.  One particularly cohesive group of officers opposed to Ríos is the Guatemalan Military Academy promotion class number 73 – many of whom would later rise to positions of leadership.  They are united in their opposition to the mass reassignments of General Order Number 10 and are suspected of plotting against the junta.  In an effort in intimidate these officers, Ríos orders the arrest and investigation of three of its most prominent members – Captains Mario López Serrano, Roberto Enrique Letona Hora and Otto Pérez Molina – threatening to expose evidence of their corrupt dealings if they continue to oppose him.

Document 23

February 1983
[Ríos Montt Gives Carte Blanche to Archivos to Deal with Insurgency]
CIA, secret cable

There has been a recent steady increase of “suspect right-wing violence,” with kidnappings – particularly of students and educators – increasing in number, and bodies again appearing in ditches and gullies, a practice that was associated with the previous regime.  Since taking power in March 1982, President Ríos has experimented with new legal mechanisms for handling captured guerrillas and suspected subversives, but sources report that in October 1982, officers of the Archivos were told that “known guerrillas will no longer be remanded to the special courts,” and that they were free to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”  Sources also say that the unit is participating in military operations against towns in the Quiché.  Although the cable reports no specific information linking the Archivos to extra-legal activities, Ambassador Frederic Chapin, in a comment attached to the end of the document, is “firmly convinced” that the recent upsurge in violence is ordered and directed by “armed services officers close to President Ríos Montt.”

Document 24

May 23, 1983
Latin America Review [extract]
CIA, secret report

This excerpted report examines recent restructuring efforts by the Guatemalan military designed to streamline army control over “civilian government personnel, police, reservists, Civil Defense Forces, as well as military personnel at the department level.”  The designation of smaller military zones and the institutionalization of special army “Task Forces” in areas of heavy guerrilla activity will provide army commanders with more flexibility to assemble the proper collection of forces for his particular zone and problems.  Although it is thought that the reorganization plan will substantially improve the army’s counterinsurgency efforts, the document also warns that the increased military presence throughout the country “might further entrench military rule at the expense of the democratization process.”

Document 25

June 30, 1983
Possible Coup in Guatemala
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

As opposition to the regime of General Ríos Montt continues to grow, U.S. military intelligence sources become aware of a coup plot brewing within the armed forces and predict that Ríos will be toppled within the next 45 days.  The president’s unpopularity is attributed to several factors including: 1) Widespread belief among military officers that his maneuvers have undermined army order and discipline; 2) Allegations of corruption within his administration; 3) Concern that his zealous evangelical beliefs are at odds with the country’s Roman Catholic heritage; and 4) Belief that Ríos does not intend to call for free elections.

The document also recounts the story of how General Lucas was coerced by the Ríos junta to resign in March 1982.  Although prepared to resist the coup, Lucas finally relented after he was led to the tunnel where his mother and sister were being held with rifles to their heads.

Document 26

August 1983
Guatemala: Prospects for Political Moderation
CIA, secret intelligence assessment

Just two weeks before President Ríos is ousted by his own defense minister – General Oscar Humberto Mejía Victores – the CIA produced this extensive intelligence assessment of his regime and its prospects for the future.  The document begins with a frank review of the history and root causes of political violence in Guatemala, beginning with the CIA-sponsored coup in 1954, an event that ushered in an era in which a loose coalition of elites ruled Guatemala under the “tacit understanding that unpredictable and unmanageable political processes – such as free elections and greater popular participation – are inimical to their interests.”  Despite the fact that the military “used extreme violence against guerrilla-controlled villages” during his tenure, Ríos is credited with having adopted “a more enlightened counterinsurgency strategy” and with reducing the level of “indiscriminate violence” that had characterized the Lucas regime.  The analysis predicts that “the present trend toward moderate government” will persist in the near term if Ríos should remain in power for the next two years – a likelihood that CIA analysts give only an even chance.

Document 27

October 9, 1983
Turmoil Continues Among [Senior] GT Military Officers
Defense Intelligence Agency, confidential cable

Although General Mejía is in de facto control of the Guatemalan government after the August 1983 coup against President Ríos, a new base of power has arisen “behind the scenes” led by Colonel Juan José Marroquín Siliezar, chief of the Presidential Staff, and General Héctor Alejandro Gramajo Morales, deputy chief of the Army General Staff. This document reports that Guatemalan military officers are beginning to suspect that Gramajo and Colonel Roberto Enrique Mata Gálvez, the commander of military forces in the department of Quiché, are working in collusion with the CIA.

Document 28

November 15, 1983
Ambassador’s Comments on the Information Concerning the Deaths of Three AID Project Related Persons
Department of State, confidential cable

U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin submits his comments on the deaths of three persons working on a project sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Chapin disagrees with the official version of events, and proposes that “the incident was a prompt response by the Archivos under Col. Juan José Marroquín Siliezar (chief of staff of the president) to the vigorous human rights presentation made by Under Secretary Ikle and Assistant Secretary Elliot Abrams on November 7.”  Although the case “cries out for justice,” Chapin recommends that the U.S. react cautiously until the actual fate of one of the missing victims is known.

Document 29

February 2, 1984
Recent Kidnappings: Signs Point to Government Security Forces
Department of State, confidential cable

The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala reports the circumstances surrounding two recent abductions in Guatemala City, suggesting that both appear to have been the work of government security forces.  The document describes in detail how one of the victims, Sergio Vinicio Samoyoa Morales, was abducted from a hospital by ten armed men just before he was scheduled to undergo surgery for bullet wounds suffered earlier that day.  In his analysis, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin notes that “these new shocking abductions indicate that the [Guatemalan] security forces will strike whenever there is a target of importance.”  Chapin proposes that the U.S. can either choose to overlook these kinds of atrocities and “emphasize the strategic concept” or “pursue a higher moral path,” but should not continue to alternate between these two positions.

Document 30

March 28, 1986
Guatemala’s Disappeared 1977-86
Department of State, secret report

This document is an extensive analysis of the root causes behind the violence in Guatemala in an effort to explain the extraordinarily high numbers of kidnappings and disappearances that have plagued the country over the last nine years.  Concluding that “government security forces were behind the majority of the 6515 abductions between 1977-1985,” the study finds that most of the victims have been ladino campesinos, Indian farmers, students and teachers, who are normally taken to army interrogation centers and then killed after hours or days of torture and interrogation.  Fearing that the new civilian government might investigate such charges, the army took steps to conceal its involvement in these activities before ceding power to civilian President Vinicio Cerezo in January 1986.  In late-1985, for example, the army transferred the secret files of the Archivos to the army intelligence directorate (D-2) for safekeeping.  Archivos, the study notes, was “a secret group in the President’s office that collected information on insurgents and operated against them.”

Document 31

circa July 1986
[The Cerezo Government]
Department of State, secret letter

The director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Morton I. Abromowitz, reports to the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding improvements in the government’s human rights record under the administration of President Cerezo, Guatemala’s first civilian president in over 15 years.  Abramowitz asserts that the level of political violence has diminished since Cerezo took office, but notes that the president’s reluctance to open “Argentina-style investigations into past human rights abuses was a calculated decision,” intended to appease the military whose support he needs.  As the previous document does, the Abramowitz letter mentions that the army disbanded the Archivos before ceding power to the civilian government, and transferred its files to the army’s intelligence directorate.

Document 32

February 1989
[Vigilante Groups Supported by Guatemalan Government]
CIA, secret cable

This cable reports that vigilante groups operating from within the Guatemalan National Police and Treasury Police – frustrated by the perceived inability of the justice system to adequately cope with the growing crime rate – are “capturing and killing individuals with long criminal records.”  The author believes that these activities are being directed by the chief of National Police “or possibly a higher authority.”  A source also alleges that the army has authorized a band of civilian military commissioners to “round up criminals and undocumented persons” who are then turned over to the military and killed since the army “has no legal means to prosecute.”  These groups appear to be different from the Jaguar Justiciero death squad, a recently resurgent group thought to have “a current hit list of 200 individuals.”

Document 33

August 31, 1989
Possible Guatemalan Government Involvement in Recent Capital Violence
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable
[Note: Transcribed copy attached]

U.S. military intelligence sources indicate that the army’s Directorate of Intelligence (D-2) was involved in the latest wave of bombings in Guatemala City, and may have used recent disturbances as cover to intimidate opposition groups.  It is reported that the D-2’s Special Operations Section was responsible for grenade attacks at the headquarters of two organizations – Peace Brigades International (PBI) and the Mutual Support Group (GAM).  Other bombings are attributed to the Revolutionary Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA) and the president’s own Christian Democratic party.

Document 34

November 1989
[The D-2 Conducts Human Rights Investigations]
CIA, secret cable

A source tells the CIA station in Guatemala that the Directorate of Intelligence (D-2) has investigated more than 500 reports of alleged human rights violations and found that most are cases of common crime “unrelated to political violence.”  The majority of the “disappeared” are, in reality, criminals, runaways or people who have joined the guerrillas or illegally emigrated to the United States.  While the CIA station agrees that human rights groups sometimes distort or fabricate their reports, the author is “almost certain that officials in the D-2 and military zone commands . . . are involved in disappearances and extrajudicial killings.”

Document 35

February 16, 1990
Intelligence Directorate (D-2) of the Guatemalan National Defense General Staff
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

This document lists all known personnel assigned in early 1990 to the Intelligence Directorate (D-2), an organization whose functions are said to be comparable to the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration.  The document describes a network of “formal and informal control” exercised by the D-2 over “various organizations capable of feeding the overall intelligence apparat,” and provides a profile of the training and background of the typical D-2 officer.  Primarily a human source intelligence organization, the D-2 officers have conducted “technical surveillance (wire-taps) and surveillance on U.S. citizens,” and have gathered so-called “romantic intelligence,” whereby the “sexual activity, proclivity, vulnerability of selected targets is collected” and “exploited accordingly.”

Document 36

September 12, 1990
Background to the Removal of General Marroquín, Chief of Staff of the Army
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

Gen. Juan Marroquín Siliezar was one of Defense Minister Héctor Gramajo’s chief rivals, and colluded with those plotting to overthrow President Cerezo in 1989.  He was not punished for his role, but was promoted in a government effort to co-opt the remaining military hardliners.  By September 1990, however, under the new defense minister, Gen. Juan Leonel Bolaños Chavez, the decision was finally made to oust Marroquín ostensibly because of his ties to opposition political parties.  This cable describes how Bolaños lured Marroquín – who was then the army’s chief of staff – to his office and met him with a contingent of armed soldiers, while two platoons from the Honor Guard Brigade secured Marroquín’s residence and captured his family.  The document notes that Marroquín appeared ready to fight for reinstatement and that he would probably have the support of a significant portion of the armed forces.  Sources report that most in the military doubt that Bolaños was behind the action, and that former defense minister Gramajo may actually have orchestrated the removal.

Document 37

May 10, 1991
Selective Violence Paralyzes the Left
Department of State, secret cable

Ambassador Thomas Stroock describes the strategy, tactics and modus operandi behind a recent campaign of terror being waged by death squads organized by government security forces.  The wave of “selective violence” – which over the year killed anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang and political activist Dinora Pérez, among others – is intended to spread fear among members of leftist organizations thought by the government to be supportive of the guerrillas.  Based on a variety of sources, Stroock concludes that these attacks have been organized and carried out by “individuals who are members of the security forces, often military intelligence (D-2) but also others from presidential security, zone commands, and occasionally the civilian police forces.”  The ambassador is also troubled that President Serrano “seems ambiguous on the topic, an ambiguity that fuels the violence,” and notes that the administration may tacitly encourage “efforts physically to eliminate the left as a remotely potential rival to power.”

Document 38

June 1991
[General Luis Enrique Mendoza García Verbally Attacks the D-2]
CIA, secret cable

Sources indicate that Minister of Defense Mendoza has launched a series of verbal attacks against the Military Intelligence Directorate (D-2), alleging that it has fallen “under the control” of U.S. intelligence.  In particular, Mendoza has accused D-2 of passing information to U.S. intelligence agencies on the killing of American citizen Michael DeVine, a case that provoked the suspension of U.S. security assistance.  Sources speculate, however, that these accusations are not sincere, and that Mendoza’s efforts to weaken the intelligence unit are linked to his alleged involvement with drug traffickers.  D-2, the document notes, “is the only credible organization in the country with an antinarcotics role.”

Document 39

August 27, 1991
Why the “Tanda” Phenomenon Does Not Exist in the Guatemalan Military
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

According to this cable, the “Tanda” phenomenon – the horizontal alliance that develops across a class of military academy graduates and persists throughout their careers – is no longer as influential in Guatemala as it is in other Latin American countries.  Although “Tandas” were strong in Guatemala in the 1970s, they were severely disrupted during the military coups of the 1980s.  During the move against President Lucas García, for example, military academy classmates with strong alliances were suddenly pitted against one another.  While some saw their fortunes rise with the new regime, “those who had maintained loyalty to Lucas [were] being relegated to positions of lesser importance.”  With the ouster of Ríos in 1983, the situation was reversed.  Since that time, the old friendships have not been renewed, “and those horizontal classmate loyalties have not been effectively reestablished.”

At the same time, vertical alliances came to replace the “Tanda,” forging loyalties among officers within their particular fields of specialization.  One of the most important and influential of these groups is the Cofradía, a “vertical column of intelligence officers,” that “represents the strongest internal network of loyalties within the institution.” Another strong vertical alliance said to share influence with the Cofradía is the “Operators,” a group of commanders and operations specialists closely involved in the planning and conduct of the couterguerrilla war.  Similar cliques also exist among elite airborne officers (paracaidistas), army rangers (Kaibiles), and air force pilots.

Document 40

June 8, 1993
The Influencing of a President – One Version
Defense Intelligence Agence, secret cable

U.S. military intelligence sources reports that General Jorge Roberto Perussina Rivera and several of his officers confronted President Ramiro De León Carpio at the presidential palace and coerced him into appointing Perussina as Minister of Defense.  Although the president had already decided to give the job to General Mario René Enríquez Morales, he acquiesced, asking Enríquez to accept a position as army chief of staff “for a short period of time, and in the interest of the army.”  Perussina – a hard-line senior officer who had supported President Serrano’s failed effort to forcibly dissolve the legislative and judicial branches of government just one month earlier – agreed to step down after three months.  The author of the document comments that Perussina’s short term as defense minister is a “good thing” since there will not be total harmony in the military until he retires.

Document 41

June 21, 1993
Uneasiness Within Guatemalan Army Officers Over New MOD
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

Intelligence sources indicate that General Perussina, the newly appointed defense minister, has not been well received by the officer corps, most of whom believe he should have retired after his involvement in President Serrano’s failed autogolpe in May.  Such dissention will make it easier for President De León Carpio to remove Perussina when the time comes.

Document 42

April 11, 1994
Suspected Presence of Clandestine Cemeteries on a Military Installation
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret message

Sources tell U.S. military intelligence officials that from 1984-86, the army’s intelligence directorate (D-2) coordinated the counterinsurgency campaign in southwest Guatemala from the southern airbase at Retalhuleu, using it as both an operations post and an interrogation center.  Small buildings that were once used as interrogation cells have since been destroyed, and pits “that were once filled with water and used to hold prisoners” have been filled with concrete.  To dispose of the prisoners after interrogation, D-2 personnel would fly them out over the ocean and push them – sometimes still alive – out of the aircraft.  “In this way, the D-2 has been able to remove the majority of evidence showing that the prisoners had been tortured and killed.”  Officers currently stationed at Retalhuleu wishing to grow plots of vegetables have been denied permission to cultivate certain areas “because the locations . . . were burial sites that had been used by the D-2 during the mid-eighties.”

Document 43

April 20, 1994
Colonel Otto Pérez Molina Today
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

The officers surrounding and supporting Colonel Otto Pérez Molina – chief of the presidential staff – belong to the most democratic faction in the military, despite having risen through the ranks of the army’s intelligence directorate (D-2) during the worst years of the violence in the early 1980s.  As the author of this cable observes, “They are progressives that grew up with blood stains on their hands . . .”  Although there is no direct evidence linking former D-2 director Pérez Molina to such activities, it is unclear to what extent these officers are still “influenced by their past.”

Document 44

November 3, 1994
The Fate of Those Captured
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

An informant attests that captured guerrillas must work with military intelligence (D-2) against their former units or face summary execution.  Only those with significant “propaganda value” are paraded before the media, while most all others are interrogated extensively, and then either recruited by the D-2 or killed.  The source adds that this has been a long-standing practice that has not changed under the army’s current leadership.

Document 45

November 24, 1994
The Rising Impact of the Bámaca Case on the Guatemalan Military Establishment
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret message

A source within the Guatemalan military describes the army’s response to increasing U.S. pressure to clarify the fate of captured rebel leader Efraín Bámaca Velásquez – husband of U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury.  The army high command, the source states, has ordered military personnel to destroy any “incriminating evidence . . . which could compromise the security or status of any member of the Guatemalan military.”  The destruction of documents, holding pens and interrogation facilities has already been accomplished at the Retalhuleu air base, and the army has designed a strategy to block future “United Nations investigating commissions” from entering bases to examine army files.  The author of the cable asserts that, “All written records concerning this case and probably a thousand others like it have, by now, been destroyed.”

Document 46

February 1, 1995
Perspective on Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret message

A source discusses whether Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez was responsible for the torture and execution of guerrilla leader Efraín Bámaca Velasquez.  The source asserts that Colonel Alpírez “was fully capable” of the performing these actions, but believes that he “would have probably delegated the final responsibility to eliminate Bámaca to a junior officer or a specialist that he trusted.”  The source also believes that the army “would not offer up one of its own” to reduce international pressure on the case, adding that anyone willing to come forward with information “would have a great deal to lose if Colonel Alpírez were to talk.”  Alpírez was a paid intelligence asset for the CIA until 1995, when then-Congressman Robert Toricelli revealed his role in the cover-up of the 1990 killing of American innkeeper Michael DeVine, and the torture and murder of Bámaca in 1992.

Document 47

February 24, 1995
Problems with Military History
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

The army vice chief of staff, General Carlos Enrique Pineda Carranza, has reportedly prevented an army historical commission – charged with writing an official history of the internal conflict – from gaining access to the Guatemalan army archives.  In doing so, Pineda has defied orders from his immediate superiors, and is said to be working with officers from the Intelligence Directorate (D-2) “to keep ‘embarrassing’ events from reaching public scrutiny.”  The source is concerned “that some records may ‘disappear’ as a result of BG Pineda and friends [sic] efforts.”

Document 48

September 14, 1995
USSOUTHCOM Intelligence Summary for 13 September 1995
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret cable

In an effort to improve Guatemala’s human rights image, President Ramiro De León Carpio has announced that he will disband the 35-year old military commissioner system, an arrangement that has long provided the army with “a steady stream” of intelligence information on “insurgent, suspected insurgent sympathizer, and criminal activities.”  However, it is also reported that the army will secretly retain the commissioners and their support functions under a different name and organizational structure.  Under the new arrangement, the Directorate of Intelligence (D-2) will compile a master list of the top 25,000 “collaborators,” who will continue to play an “invisible” role for the military.  The new system is intended to preserve “the valuable HUMINT [human source intelligence] collection network critical for monitoring insurgent activity,” while allowing “deniability if allegations about retaining the commissioners arise.”

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

Volume I: Units and Officers


Contents of this website Copyright 1995-2017 National Security Archive. All rights reserved.
Terms and conditions for use of materials found on this website.