Murder and Complicity in Guatemala; U.S., Israel Allegedly Continue Furtive Roles in Military, Politics

By Wirpsa, Leslie | National Catholic Reporter, April 7, 1995 | Go to article overview

Murder and Complicity in Guatemala; U.S., Israel Allegedly Continue Furtive Roles in Military, Politics


Wirpsa, Leslie, National Catholic Reporter


GUATEMALA CITY -- Recent reports of the alleged complicity of a Guatemalan army colonel who was a CIA contract employee in the deaths of a U.S. citizen and a Guatemalan rebel leader have added another chapter to the history of U.S. involvement with Guatemala's brutal armed forces.

According to reports revealed last month by Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., of the House Intelligence Committee, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez ordered the 1990 murder of inkeeper Michael DeVine. Alpirez also ordered the killing of guerrilla commander Efrain Bamaca, husband of Harvard-educated lawyer Jennifer Harbury, the reports allege. Bamaca was reported "disappeared" after he was captured in March 1992 by the army.

Alpirez's alleged involvement in DeVine's murder came six months after the colonel completed a 48-week Command and General Staff Officers Course at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. The CIA knew about Alpirez's alleged hand in the murders but concealed the information, according to Torricelli.

The murder prompted Congress to suspend military aid to Guatemala.

But U.S. military involvement in that country, which dates back to the 1954 CIA-led coup that ousted elected President Jacobo Arbenz, initiating more than 30 years of control by military regimes, continues to date. Bush and Clinton administration officials have admitted that the CIA continued to funnel between $5 million and $7 million annually to the Guatemalan military and to CIA sources even after the aid cutoff. That slush fund may still exist today.

Moreover, through a campaign calledd Strong Roads '95, thousands of U.S. army reserves will rotate in and out of Guatemala in groups of 300 this year for training organized by the U.S. Southern Command in Panama.

U.S. government sources say this is a "lesson on democratic interaction and military-civilian community relations" as well as "realistic training for (National) Guard reserves." The reserves are operating in the departments of Jutiapa and Jalapa and are working side by side with Guatemalan security forces.

Guatemalan journalist Armando Cu, who runs the Bartolome de las Casas Center for media, said the U.S. troops are doing more than building roads.

"Strong Roads hides under a camouflage of social and humanitarian assistance. Do they think they can fool us with this today like they fooled us with mirrors 500 years ago?" Cu asked.

"This program has logistic goals: One, the United States wants to build a buffer so the (Mexican) Zapatistas won't go any farther. And the gringos, they are helping out with psychological warfare techniques, which are the backbone of low-intensity warfare," he added.

Cu said, because of the international political scandal surrounding the Guatemalan army's human rights record, U.S. training of officers and troops can not be carried out "openly." So, he said, "help comes in the name of Strong Roads, of democracy, of human rights, of ecology and of anti-narcotics assistance."

While there was no direct military aid to Guatemala in 1994, economic aid reached $30 million and anti-narcotics aid was at least $40 million, according to U.S. government sources. The Clinton administration has also proposed the renewal of International Military Education Training for the Guatemalan army, but Congress denied the request.

Moreover, Guatemalan security forces continue to receive weapons and, according to human rights advocates in the country, training from one of the United States' closest military allies -- Israel.

An international expert on political-military relations in Guatemala City who asked to remain anonymous said Israel has "filled a market" for guns in Guatemala that the United States was not filling "for political reasons." He said Guatemala security forces get Israeli training and weapons under the rubric of "training for presidential security."

According to statements from Interior Minister Carlos Enrique Reynoso Gil, published Feb.

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