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LIST OF WARS: DETAILS

Guatemalan Civil War

Years: 1965-1995
Battle deaths: 43,200 [1]
Onesided violence: 2,192 [2]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
Guatemala

Published prior to 2013 | Altered: 2014-08-11 17:37:56
In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Gen. Ydígoras Fuentes, who took power in 1958 following the murder of Col. Castillo Armas, a group of junior military officers revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with Cuba. This group became the nucleus of the forces that were in armed insurrection against the government for the next 36 years.

Four principal left-wing guerrilla groups — the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA), the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT) — conducted economic sabotage and targeted government installations and members of government security forces in armed attacks. These organizations combined to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in 1982. At the same time, extreme right-wing groups of self-appointed vigilantes, including the Secret Anti-Communist Army (ESA) and the White Hand, tortured and murdered students, professionals, and peasants suspected of involvement in leftist activities.

Shortly after President Julio César Méndez Montenegro took office in 1966, the army launched a major counterinsurgency campaign that largely broke up the guerrilla movement in the countryside. The guerrillas then concentrated their attacks in Guatemala City, where they assassinated many leading figures, including U.S. Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968. Between 1966 and 1982, there were a series of military or military-dominated governments.

On March 23, 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers staged a coup d’état to prevent the assumption of power by General Ángel Aníbal Guevara, the hand-picked candidate of outgoing President and General Romeo Lucas García. They denounced Guevara’s electoral victory as fraudulent. The coup leaders asked retired Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt to negotiate the departure of Lucas and Guevara. Ríos Montt had been the candidate of the Christian Democracy Party in the 1974 presidential elections and was widely regarded as having been denied his own victory through fraud.

Ríos Montt was by this time a lay pastor in the evangelical protestant Church of the Word. In his inaugural address, he stated that his presidency resulted from the will of God. He was widely perceived as having strong backing from the Reagan administration in the United States. He formed a three-member military junta that annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress, suspended political parties and cancelled the electoral law. After a few months, Ríos Montt dismissed his junta colleagues and assumed the de facto title of "President of the Republic".

Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies denounced Ríos Montt. Ríos Montt sought to defeat the guerrillas with military actions and economic reforms; in his words, "rifles and beans". In May 1982, the Conference of Catholic Bishops accused Ríos Montt of responsibility for growing militarization of the country and for continuing military massacres of civilians. General Ríos Montt was quoted in the New York Times of July 18, 1982 as telling an audience of indigenous Guatemalans, "If you are with us, we’ll feed you; if not, we’ll kill you." The Plan de Sánchez massacre occurred on the same day.

The government began to form local civilian defense patrols (PACs). Participation was in theory voluntary, but in practice, many Guatemalans, especially in the northwest, had no choice but to join either the PACs or the guerrillas. Ríos Montt’s conscript army and PACs recaptured essentially all guerrilla territory — guerrilla activity lessened and was largely limited to hit-and-run operations. However, Ríos Montt won this partial victory at an enormous cost in civilian deaths.

Ríos Montt’s brief presidency was probably the most violent period of the 36-year internal conflict, which resulted in about 200,000 deaths of mostly unarmed indigenous civilians. Although leftist guerrillas and right-wing death squads also engaged in summary executions, forced disappearances, and torture of noncombatants, the vast majority of human rights violations were carried out by the Guatemalan military and the PACs they controlled. The internal conflict is described in great detail in the reports of the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) and the Archbishop’s Office for Human Rights (ODHAG). The CEH estimates that government forces were responsible for 93% of the violations; ODHAG earlier estimated that government forces were responsible for 80%.

On August 8, 1983, Ríos Montt was deposed by his own Minister of Defense, General Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores, who succeeded him as de facto president of Guatemala. Mejía justified his coup, saying that "religious fanatics" were abusing their positions in the government and also because of "official corruption". Seven people were killed in the coup, although Ríos Montt survived to found a political party (the Guatemalan Republic Front) and to be elected President of Congress in 1995 and 2000. Awareness in the United States of the conflict in Guatemala, and its ethnic dimension, increased with the 1983 publication of the autobiographical account I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala; Rigoberta Menchú was later awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in favor of broader social justice.

General Mejía allowed a managed return to democracy in Guatemala, starting with a July 1, 1984 election for a Constituent Assembly to draft a democratic constitution. On May 30, 1985, after nine months of debate, the Constituent Assembly finished drafting a new constitution, which took effect immediately. Vinicio Cerezo, a civilian politician and the presidential candidate of the Christian Democracy Party, won the first election held under the new constitution with almost 70% of the vote, and took office on January 14, 1986.

Source: Wikipedia, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved [dat]


Findings of the Commission for Truth and Clarification
Commission for Truth and Clarification - in Spanish w Annexes

SOURCES: FATALITY DATA

Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: PRIO Battle Deaths Dataset v3.0 (link) (1946-88) UCDP Battle-Related Deaths Dataset v.5-2014 (link) (1989-) ID: #36
Low: 19,994 High: 56,185

[2] UCDP One-sided Violence Dataset v 1.4-2014 (1989-2013) (link) (1989-) including actors: Government of Guatemala
Low: 1,283 High: 2,325



[2] Onesided violence: Documented deaths from human rights abuses according to the findings of the Commission for Truth and Clarification. High estimate is 140,000 to be compared by the commissions total estimate of 200,000 war dead minus the high estimate from PRIO. These figures does however need further examination.

More about sources

NOTE ON NATION DATA

NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.

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