Genocide and Global Warming


December, 2014

This has been a very difficult year in Guatemala. Under President Otto Perez Molina the government has increasingly used military and police violence to accelerate the theft of indigenous lands and the destruction of the environment.

Our partner communities have not been able to escape this violence. The community Monte Olivo was one of the central targets of an August 2014 attack by over 1,000 Guatemalan soldiers  who came with private security forces to burn down homes and arrest community leaders. Similar violent, illegal “evictions” of indigenous communities have become common under President Perez.

Genocidal violence has been consistently used against the majority indigenous population in Guatemala since the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. During these 500 years there have been repeated uprisings by the indigenous and peasant population. In 1944, a coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous peasants, students and teachers rose up in a primarily nonviolent revolution that overthrew US-backed dictator Jorge Ubico. The revolution led to 10 years of democracy and the end to laws forcing indigenous peasants to work on plantations, often for no wage.

These reforms caused great discomfort to the wealthy few who owned the majority of land in Guatemala. The largest landowner at the time was the United Fruit Company. Major stockholders in UFCO included John Foster Dulles (then U.S. Secretary of State), Allen Dulles (then head of the CIA), Henry Cabot Lodge (then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) and Ed Whitman (husband of Ann Whitman, then President Eisenhower’s personal secretary). These individuals profited significantly from Ubico’s policies of land theft and forced labor for the indigenous majority. They were also in position to direct the enormous power of the U.S. government against the people of Guatemala.

The U.S. reacted to the humanitarian changes of the fledgling Guatemalan democracy with various forms of military, diplomatic, economic and psychological warfare. A key ally in this warfare was Anastasio Somoza, the longtime dictator of Nicaragua. Somoza received significant military and financial support from the U.S. and used this to repress the civilian population in Nicaragua. He was terrified that the granting of basic rights to citizens in Guatemala could lead to greater demands for justice within Nicaragua. Somoza coordinated closely with the CIA to end Guatemala’s democracy.

The CIA opened training camps in Nicaragua with the purpose of building a small army to invade Guatemala. Because of the strong support for democracy within Guatemala it was clear that a small army would not be enough to overthrow the government. The CIA also started a radio station in Nicaragua which was broadcast into Guatemala and publicly claimed to be located in Guatemala. The station played an important role in sewing fear in Guatemala. It constantly lied about the activities of the government and invented stories about a large opposition in Guatemala.

The CIA also helped organize a public relations offensive in Guatemala, the United States and other countries. This included writing false articles and feeding them directly to the press. The purpose was to portray the Guatemalan government as controlled by the Soviets. This was despite the fact that the CIA knew the Guatemalan government had almost no contact with the USSR and that its humanitarian reforms, such as ending forced labor and increasing the minimum wage, were not even as progressive as similar laws in the U.S. Truth or justice never had anything to do with the effort. In May of 1954 the CIA even organized a fake Soviet arms shipment to be “discovered” in Nicaragua in order to create the appearance of a Soviet-Guatemala connection.

The CIA’s campaign created an enormous amount of fear within Guatemala. The population knew that they would have little chance against a US invasion. Unknown planes started flying low over Guatemala City as if practicing a bombing run. Some dropped pamphlets saying that the country’s “liberation” was coming soon. At the end of May leaflets were passed under doors at night telling people to prepare lists of communists and communist sympathizers so that the coming new government could “deal out justice.”

This culminated in June, 1954 with the invasion of hundreds of US-trained mercenaries. The mercenaries were initially defeated, and the CIA told President Eisenhower that Guatemalan democracy could only be ended with the direct intervention of the US Air Force. Guatemala City was then bombed. The elected government was overthrown and replaced by a U.S.-backed military junta. Since 1954 the US-supported military has retained control and resumed the genocide.

The US Army School of the Americas has played a significant role in continuing the genocide. The SOA is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers located in Ft. Benning, Georgia, USA. It is labeled by some a terrorist training camp due to the fact that many of its graduates have later committed atrocities against civilians of their own countries. This is especially true in Guatemala.

The worst period of this most recent cycle of genocide is recognized as being 1978-1982. During these years, dictators and SOA graduates Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efrain Rios Montt executed a “scorched earth policy” in which hundreds of massacres took place and entire communities were destroyed by the military.

Denouncement of human rights conditions became impossible to ignore after the massacre of over 200 civilians by the military in the town of Dos Erres in December 1982. President Ronald Reagan pushed for continued military support for Guatemala, saying that human rights groups were giving the military “a bad rap” and that dictator Rios Montt was “totally dedicated to democracy.” After SOA graduate Pedro Pimentel Rios participated in the Dos Erres massacre, he was invited to return to the US to be an instructor at the school.

A United Nations Truth Commission report concluded that “the Army, inspired by the US National Security Doctrine, defined a concept of internal enemy that went beyond guerrilla sympathizers, combatants or militants to include civilians from specific ethnic groups.” SOA graduates comprised four of eight military officials in the cabinet of Lucas Garcia and six out of nine under Rios Montt.

The UN Truth Commission also concluded that “Using the US National Security Doctrine as its justification … crimes were committed which include kidnapping and assassination of political activists, students, trade unionists, and human rights advocates … the forced disappearance of political and social leaders and poor peasants; and the systematic use of torture.”

Many leaders of Guatemala’s infamous D-2 Military Intelligence agency are graduates of the SOA. They include Col. Byron Lima Estrada, convicted of the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi. Bishop Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in his home two days after releasing a human rights report which implicated the SOA in many of the massacres which occurred in Guatemala. The massacres detailed in Gerardi’s report were horrific. One example from a 1982 massacre near the community Cuarto Pueblo, located very close to several of our partner communities:

“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.”

In 1996 the Guatemalan government signed peace accords promising to end the genocide and respect the rights of indigenous people. Since then the repression has only continued to escalate, reaching a new high under the current government of SOA graduate and former General Otto Perez Molina. Perez led a military base in one of the most violent regions of Guatemala in the 1980s and has been accused of ordering torture and assassination of indigenous peasants.

Perez was “elected” after a campaign in which dozens of candidates and political leaders were assassinated. The GSP was present on election day in one of our partner communities where there was intense interest in political repression. However only two members of the community dared vote over fears that others would be arrested at the polls because of their political participation. Despite his genocidal past and this corrupt and violent “election,” the US supports General Perez via continued training of soldiers at the SOA, sending US special forces to Guatemala for training and combined operations, and hundreds of millions of dollars of aid.

The central purpose of these centuries of violence has always been to generate profit from the people and land of Guatemala for a small group of families or corporations. It is no coincidence that genocidal violence has coincided with the destruction of ecosystems, forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, aquifers, and species.

Guatemala remains one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet. Its forests sequester a large amount of carbon and help regulate the climate. The survival of these forests will play a significant factor in the struggle to slow global warming. But Guatemala has lost approximately 20% of its forest cover since 1990. Violent evictions of peasant communities are often followed by clear cutting of their lands to make way for gold mining, cattle farming or other destructive “development” that profit a tiny minority and leave indigenous peoples with nothing but hunger and pollution.

We believe that supporting indigenous land rights is an essential part of the fight against global warming. A July 2014 report by World Resources Institute and Rights and Resources Initiative called “the most comprehensive literature review to date on this subject” focused on the 14 most heavily forested countries on the planet, which includes Guatemala, and asked what type of forest management is best for reducing deforestation. It concluded that land held by indigenous communities is significantly less impacted by deforestation.

Indigenous leaders have repeatedly explained to us that reverence for mother earth is part of their cultural heritage. In the below interview, then political prisoner Ramiro Choc discusses how indigenous communities attempt to protect mother earth but are nonetheless persecuted.

We believe that supporting indigenous land rights is an essential part of the fight against global warming. We will continue to stand in solidarity with indigenous communities trying to protect their families and local ecosystems. The forces of genocide and global warming are extremely powerful and will not rest, and we need your support to win this struggle.



One time donations are very helpful, but we would like to make a special appeal to you to sign up for monthly giving. Over 500 years of genocidal violence won’t be defeated overnight, so we are committed to work in long term solidarity with our partners in Guatemala. In the past they have prioritized education, and the GSP has funded the construction of three primary schools which have taught hundreds of indigenous children who had been denied the right to education. In 2014 escalating repression forced us to cancel our goal of building our fourth school. Most of our funds instead were directed to political prisoners and people injured or orphaned by government and paramilitary attacks.

Monthly giving allows us to better plan our work and live up to our commitments. One of our most important commitments is to political prisoners. We have worked with dozens of indigenous peasant leaders who have been imprisoned on false charges. Many have faced beatings, torture, denial of food and denial of medicine. Guatemalan prisons are extremely violent, filthy and dangerous. The government has targeted the most dedicated and eloquent indigenous leaders for arrest. We visit them at least once every month to give them moral support and financial assistance to help with food and other costs. We can only continue to fulfill this commitment with your support.

It is agonizing to see humble leaders suffering in prison. It is worse for them to know that, in many cases, their children are starving because they are no longer able to provide for them. We know that our small but consistent solidarity has made a significant impact in their lives.

We have also been able to play a role in winning freedom for many political prisoners. In 2013 indigenous organizer Ramiro Choc was released after five years in prison. We are proud to have played a small role in his release by collecting thousands of petition signatures, organizing several international fasts, supporting some legal and medical costs and visiting Choc on numerous occasions. In July of 2014 community leader Crisanto Cuc Xol was released after over six months of prison. We collected thousands of signatures about the case, met with Crisanto each month in prison and met with Guatemalan and US officials to demand his release. In August of 2014 peasant leader Thomas Chen was beaten unconscious and arrested, and we worked quickly to mobilize pressure for his freedom. Two weeks later he was released from prison.

With your sustained support we will be able to continue to stand in solidarity with political prisoners, with peasants injured and children orphaned from attacks, and to finally build our fourth school and allow children the education the government seeks to deny them.

You can sign up for monthly giving here. The best way to make a one-time contribution is by writing a check to “UPAVIM Community Development Foundation” and sending it to UPAVIM, PO Box 63, Marshfield, VT 05658. You can also make one-time contributions via this website.

We also suggest you read:

Women-Led Resistance Against False Development in Guatemala