A Guatemala-CIA Scandal Splits Army Hard-Line Officers Fight to Retain Their Power against Younger Ones Eager to Clean Up the Military's Image

By Trish O'Kane, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 1995 | Go to article overview

A Guatemala-CIA Scandal Splits Army Hard-Line Officers Fight to Retain Their Power against Younger Ones Eager to Clean Up the Military's Image


Trish O'Kane, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A CIA scandal over its links to murders in Guatemala has triggered a sharp reaction within this nation's military.

As the scandal escalates in Washington, pressure has mounted on many Guatemalan Army officers to curtail their often-unchallenged actions against civilians.

Worried about a loss of power, disgruntled officers may be behind a rash of recent bombings in the capital, Western analysts speculate.

Some officers are upset over accusations by United States Congressman Robert Torricelli (D) of New Jersey that Guatemalan Army Col. Julio Alberto Alpirez, while on the CIA payroll, was involved in the murder of a leftist guerrilla commander, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, and a US innkeeper living in Guatemala, Michael Devine. Devine's widow testified yesterday before Congress.

The links to the Central Intelligence Agency were revealed following efforts by Bamaca's widow, US citizen Jennifer Harbury. Her hunger strikes and attempts to extract secret official information on her husband helped bring the murders to the public eye.

The US congressman's charges against Colonel Alpirez are the first time a member of the US government has publicly accused a Guatemalan military officer of murder. Over the past several months, local press reports have named various military officials for drug trafficking, kidnapping, and other crimes. But the Army has been able to shrug off the charges.

"It never occurred to Army officials that they would ever have to explain what happened to one guerrilla. No one has ever questioned them before. They've acted with complete impunity over the last three decades," a foreign diplomat explains.

But the accusations come at a time when the Army is wracked by division. Hard-line officers are fearful of losing power to younger officer, called "institutionalists," who have been displacing hard-liners over the last year-and-a-half.

Some analysts speculate that Guatemalan press accusations are part of a campaign by younger officers to "clean out" the Army. Alpirez belongs to the hard-line faction, says Ronalth Ochaeta, director of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop here.

"Efforts to clean out the Army are provoking a strong reaction. Right now, anything is possible. We can't rule out a coup or an assassination attempt on the president or defense minister," explains a political analyst close to the military. …

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