Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Month: July, 2012

Reconciliation in Bosnia



I am old enough to recall when Yugoslavia was held up by leftists in the west as a model for how a society and economy could  be run for the benefit of citizens rather than corporations. Yugoslavia experimented  with a type of independent socialism that allowed  workers in state-run enterprises to participate in management. I purchased  a volume Penguin published of  learned essays on worker self-management (sometimes called workers’ control or autogestion) in which socialist intellectuals enthused about Yugoslavia. Autogestion, they believed, was the answer to labour relation problems in the west.

Tito could be seen as a benevolent dictator because he had stood up to Stalin. “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle (…) If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.” His internal policies successfully maintained the peaceful coexistence of the nations of the Yugoslav federation and  he gained international attention as the chief leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. On 1 January 1967, Yugoslavia was the first communist country to open its borders to all foreign visitors and abolish visa requirements. Croatia became a popular holiday destination and its wine appeared on British supermarket shelves.
Tito’s good reputation survived  the criticisms of dissident Milovan Djilas, who had been regarded as Tito’s natural successor. Slobodan Markovic, a political scientist, derided a wave of Yugonostalgia: “People have forgotten that Tito was a dictator. They remember there was peace and stability, and they forget the violation of human rights. Yugoslavia lived well because it was the only communist country that received enormous US aid and then loans.”

One hundred and twenty-eight countries sent political delegations to Tito’s funeral; those present included the USSR’s Brezhnev, Jimmy Carter’s mother, James Callaghan, Yasser Arafat, Colonel Gaddafi, the Duke of Edinburgh, Nicolae Ceausescu, Erich Honecker. There were four kings, 31 presidents, six princes, 22 prime ministers, 47 foreign ministers. Only five countries, including Pinochet’s Chile and apartheid-era South Africa, stayed away.


After Tito’s death in 1980, the New York Times wrote: ”Tito sought to improve life. … Yugoslavia gradually became a bright spot amid the general greyness of Eastern Europe”.  Tensions between the Yugoslav republics soon emerged and in 1991 the country collapsed into a mayhem of  inter-communal strife and horror. Djilas wrote: “Our system was built only for Tito to manage. Now that Tito is gone and our economic situation becomes critical, there will be a natural tendency for greater centralization of power. But this centralization will not succeed because it will run up against the ethnic-political power bases in the republics. This is not classical nationalism but a more dangerous, bureaucratic nationalism built on economic self-interest. This is how the Yugoslav system will begin to collapse.”


The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was particularly complex and horrific because there were so many parties involved. It was principally a territorial conflict, initially between Serb forces and the national army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was mainly composed of Muslim Bosniaks, and Croatian forces. The population of the  multi-ethnic, multi-faith  Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was 44% Muslim Bosniaks, 31% Orthodox Serbs, 17% Catholic Croats. Serbs set up their own enclave within Bosnia, Republika Srpska, whose army had some 80,000 personnel during the war and  committed war crimes and genocide against Bosnia Muslims and Croats.

Sarajevo and Srebrenica

There is no space here to describe the full complexity and horror of the Bosnian war. Let Sarajevo and Srebrenica stand as specimens. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, three times longer than the Siege of Stalingrad. There was an average of 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a maximum of 3,777 on 22 July 1993. It is estimated that nearly 12,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. Snipers killed civilians queuing for water or trying to buy food in the market. Bosniak  homes were ransacked, males taken to concentration camps, women repeatedly raped. UNICEF reported that, at least 40% children in the city had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters. The Bosnian Government reported a soaring suicide rate by Sarajevans, a near doubling of abortions and a 50% drop in births since the siege began.

In July 1995, at Srebrenica, a  “safe area” under UN protection, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces under Ratko Mladić  and massacred.

The genocidal plan was orchestrated by poet-politician Radovan Karadžić, President of Republika Srpska.

Karadžić was accused of directing Bosnian Serb forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival of life” in the UN safe area. In addition, he is accused by the ICTY of ordering that UN  personnel be taken hostage in May–June 1995.The Bosniak victims included boys aged under 15, men over the age of 65, women, and reportedly even several babies.

UN failings – to intervene or not to intervene?

Dutch UN soldiers were criticised for failing to protect the Bosniak refugees in the “safe area”. Lieutenant-Colonel Thom Karremans was filmed drinking a toast with  Mladić . Zumra Šehomerovic reported mass rapes. The rapes often took place under the eyes of others and sometimes even under the eyes of the children of the mother. A Dutch soldier stood by and he simply looked around with a  Walkman on his head. He did not react at all to what was happening. It did not happen just before my eyes, for I saw that personally, but also before the eyes of us all. The Dutch soldiers walked around everywhere. It is impossible that they did not see it.”

In 2005, in a message on  the tenth anniversary commemoration of the genocide, Kofi Annan  noted that, while blame lay first and foremost with those who planned and carried out the massacre and those who assisted and harboured them, great nations had failed to respond adequately.  Srebrenica would haunt the UN forever.  In 2004, the International Criminal court ruled that the massacre constituted genocide, a crime under international law.

Jasmin Mujanović argues that persistent fallacies have informed the international community’s attempts to “deal” with Bosnia since (at least) 1991-92. He writes that the war was not “the result of the unbridled and millennial ethnic hatreds of its peoples, but rather the engineered and orchestrated machinations of an unaccountable political elite seeking to secure its political and economic survival in a period of immense social crisis”… Significant elements of the international community advocated a foreign policy based on preserving a vacuous conception of ‘stability’ and ‘unity’ rather than a principled insistence on democratization and human rights. …the international community had sent strong signals to the country’s leadership that an increased role by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) would be a welcome step towards checking some of their growing concerns about the stability of political authority in the country in the post-Tito period.”

Death Toll

There are large discrepancies between estimates of the total number of casualties in the Bosnian war, ranging from 25,000 to 329,000. According to Prof. Steven L. Burg and Prof. Paul S. Shoup: “The figure of 200,000 (or more) dead, injured, and missing was frequently cited in media reports on the war in Bosnia as late as 1994. The October 1995 bulletin of the Bosnian Institute for Public Health of the Republic Committee for Health and Social Welfare gave the numbers as 146,340 killed, and 174,914 wounded on the territory under the control of the Bosnian army. Mustafa Imamovic gave a figure of 144,248 perished (including those who died from hunger or exposure), mainly Muslims. The Red Cross and the UNHCR have not, to the best of our knowledge, produced data on the number of persons killed and injured in the course of the war. A November 1995 unclassified CIA memorandum estimated 156,500 civilian deaths in the country (all but 10,000 of them in Muslim- or Croat-held territories), not including the 8,000 to 10,000 then still missing from Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves. This figure for civilian deaths far exceeded the estimate in the same report of 81,500 troops killed (45,000 Bosnian government; 6,500 Bosnian Croat; and 30,000 Bosnian Serb).”


There were several major massacres during 1995 and NATO made many airstrikes against Bosnian Serb positions supported by UNPROFOR rapid reaction force artillery attacks. On 14 September 1995, the NATO air strikes were suspended to allow the implementation of an agreement with Bosnian Serbs for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from around Sarajevo. On 26 September 1995, an agreement of further basic principles for a peace accord was reached in New York. A 60-day ceasefire came into effect on 12 October, and on 1 November peace talks began in Dayton, Ohio. The war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on 21 November 1995.

The Dayton Accord was described as a “construction of necessity” the immediate purpose of which  was to freeze the military confrontation, and prevent it  from resuming. There is no space here to go into the intricate juggling to swap territories from one group to another in order to establish the new nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). Many scholars have deemed Dayton an  impressive example of conflict resolution which has turned Bosnia from a basket-case to a potential EU member.

Critics have, however, had problems with the fact  international , unaccountable to BiH’s citizens, to shape the agenda of post-war transition, and decide  punishment for  local political actors. Another perceived flaw is  each ethnic group was discontented with the results. Bosniaks were upset that  human rights issues were ignored  and that Serbian entities were given recognition. Edin Šarčević, of the Bosnian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the current legal structure of the agreement does not abide by the basic principles of international law making the Bosnian territorial and political situation continually unstable and fractious since its implementation.

Truth and Reconciliation

Retributive justice is impossible to apply in a context like Bosnia where so many were involved in the conflict. There are not enough resources to capture and try everyone who committed war crimes. Widespread arrests would reignite conflict. In January 2005, Hajra Catic, of the Mothers of Srebrenica organization, “lost faith” in ICTY’s ability to dispense justice after they sentenced Dragan Jokic, a man she believed was responsible for 3,000 deaths, to only nine years in prison.

Eileen Babbitt wrote about  UN efforts to reintegrate refugees: “they were coming back to communities where they were really, really unwanted. Most of them were coming back to places where they were a majority population and now post-war they are the minority, so another group has literally taken over and moved into their homes, and many of those people are also displaced, traumatized, etc. and they’re not about to simply give up everything and welcome the returning refugees with open arms.”

Reconciliation is hampered by a refusal to face up to the truth because each group has its own narrative. Schools are  strictly segregated and  children learn three different versions of the  war. After many failed attempts, there has still not been a successful truth commission.

On 6 December 2004, Serbian president Boris Tadić made an apology to all those who suffered crimes committed in the name of the Serb people. Croatia’s president Ivo Josipović apologized in April 2010 for his country’s role in the Bosnian War. On 31 March 2010, the Serbian parliament adopted a declaration “condemning in strongest terms the crime committed in July 1995 against Bosniak population of Srebrenica” and apologizing to the families of the victims.


In Bosnia, 88% support the country’s bid for EU membership. Identification with Europe as a supranational community can in Bosnia and Herzegovina become a way to overcome ethnic differences. Poll results show that support for EU membership is strongest in the Muslim community, with 97% in favour, while 85%  of Bosnian Croats support it and 78% of Bosnian Serbs. The EU-initiated processes of institutional engineering and systemic inclusion of minority groups and non-nationalists into policy-making processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina signals an important and historic shift from an ethnocentric citizenship model towards a democratic and inclusive citizenship regime.

Bosnia today

On 25 July 2012 Ban Ki-moon addressed the BiH parliament and noted the progress achieved by Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last two decades, including its transformation from a country which hosted UN peacekeepers to a troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, and from occupying the agenda of the Security Council to successfully serving on the Council. “Led by your priorities and direction, we are working together to create jobs especially for young people, extend social protection for the most vulnerable groups, end the suffering of those enduring protracted displacement, safeguard the environment, tackle discrimination and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) highlighted the continued marginalization of minority groups, particularly Roma. In a joint opinion issued in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UK Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague expressed disappointment at the protracted institutional gridlock in Bosnia that was preventing needed reforms, including ending ethnic discrimination in politics.


Reconciliation in Cyprus

Many of the conflicts that I have described in these articles on reconciliation have not been helped by  colonisation. In 1878, Britain was granted control of Cyprus in exchange for giving military support to the Ottoman Empire against Russia. The first British High Commissioner was  Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley. The indigenous Greeks of the island, who in the 1881 census formed 73.9% of the population, desired enosis,  to unite with Greece.

Cypriots initially believed  British rule would bring  prosperity, democracy and national liberation. However, the  British levied severe taxes to cover the compensation which they were paying to the Sultan. All powers were reserved to the High Commissioner and to London, thwarting hopes of participatory democracy for Cypriots.
The First World War ended protectorate status and Cyprus was annexed to the British Empire. Britain offered to cede Cyprus to Greece if they would fulfil treaty obligations to attack Bulgaria, but Greece declined. Britain proclaimed Cyprus a Crown colony in 1925 under an undemocratic constitution.
Under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 the new Turkish government formally recognised Britain’s sovereignty over Cyprus. Greek Cypriots continued to demand  enosis ,which had been  achieved by  many of the Aegean and Ionian islands following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The  British opposed enosis and unrest  developed rapidly during the 1930s. There were riots in Nicosia in 1931 during which Government House was burnt down.
The Governor, Sir Richmond Palmer, took a number of suppressive measures against the  Greek population and prohibited trade unions and limited freedom of association. In spite of this more than thirty thousand Cypriots joined the British armed forces during the Second World War.

After the war, there was increasing international pressure for enosis and a delegation from Cyprus submitted a demand to London. The demand was rejected but the British proposed a more liberal constitution and a ten-year programme of social and economic development.
When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond, violence escalated with a campaign against the colonial power organised by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader, Colonel George Grivas created and directed an effective campaign beginning in 1955. The first bombs were set off on April 1. Attacks on police stations started on June 19. The Governor proclaimed a State of Emergency on 26 November.

For the next four years EOKA attacked British targets and those Cypriots it accused of collaboration. Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders were forced into exile. The Cyprus emergency cost the lives of 371 British servicemen, more than have died in Afghanistan.
Turkish Cypriots in 1957 responded to the demand for enosis  by calling for  taksim, partition.  Taksim became the slogan which was used by the increasingly militant Turkish Cypriots to counter the Greek cry of ‘enosis’. In 1957 Fazıl Küçük, who represented Turkish Cypriots and later became vice-president of independent Cyprus, declared during a visit to Ankara that Turkey would claim the northern half of the island.

The British were forced to take a different attitude after the Suez fiasco demonstrated that they were no longer a convincing imperial power. Britain  decided that independence was acceptable if military  bases in Cyprus could be an  alternative to Cyprus as a base. However, Governor  Sir Hugh Foot’s plan for unitary self-government alarmed the Turkish community and violence between the two communities became  a new and deadly feature of the situation.

On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from Britain. Archbishop Makarios was elected the first president. In 1961 Cyprus became the 99th member of the UN. Independence  did not bring reconciliation. Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriot interests were obstacles to efficient government and tried to exclude Turkish politicians. Both sides continued the violence. Turkish Cypriot participation in the central government ceased on December 23, 1963, when all Cypriot Turks from the lowest civil servants to ministers, including the Turkish Vice-President Dr Fazıl Küçük, were out of the government. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964, effectively recognising the Greek Cypriots as the government. UK PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home said international intervention was essential: “There would probably have been a massacre of Turkish Cypriots” which were confined in enclaves totaling little more than 3% of the island.

In July 1974, Makarios was overthrown by a coup carried out by the Cypriot National Guard which supported the military dictators who had seized power in Athens. Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20 and  took control of 38% of the island. 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled the northern areas and  60,000 Turkish Cypriots were transferred to northern occupied areas by the UN. Since then, the southern part of the country has been under the control of the internationally recognised Cyprus government and the northern part occupied under a Turkish administration and the Turkish army. Turkey relocated 40,000 Turkish civilians to the occupied part of the island through coercive measures, meaning that now only 45% of the Turkish population were actually born on Cyprus.

Many have accused Britain of its customary divide and rule tactics. Nicos Koshis, a former justice minister, said: “It is my feeling they wanted to have fighting between the two sides. They didn’t want us to get together. If the communities come together maybe in the future we say no bases in Cyprus.” Martin Packard, a naval intelligence officer, told Jolyon Jenkins of the BBC that in 1964 he had to take US acting secretary of state George Ball, around the island. Arriving back in Nicosia, says Packard, “Ball patted me on the back, as though I were sadly deluded and he said: That was a fantastic show son, but you’ve got it all wrong, hasn’t anyone told you that our plan here is for partition?”
Historians such as Brendan O’Malley, Ian Craig, Lawrence Stern and  William Mallinson have argued that the U.S. had a continuous, decade-long plan to partition Cyprus through external military intervention and that this plan was based on the strategic value of Cyprus as a military base and source of intelligence. Caroline Wenzke and Dan Lindley  disagree: “While the U.S.’s rationale was not always commendable or favourable to the Cypriot people and at times the State Department’s
decisions may merit criticism, the U.S. did not orchestrate a decade-long conspiracy to protect its own interests on the island.”

When Cyprus applied  to join the EU in May 2004, members of both communities (and citizens of EU) have been able to cross the buffer zone. A UN-sponsored referendum on reunification was held on 21 April 2004. Turkish Cypriots voted to accept the UN plan as stated in the referendum, but Greek Cypriots rejected it by a large majority.

The first elections to take place after Cyprus’s accession to the EU and the failed referendum, were in 2008. Dimitris Christofias of the communist party became president and  started talks with on the reunification of Cyprus as a bizonal federal state. His hopes for Greek Cypriot approval of such a plan were thwarted  by the nationalists’ victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections. Turkey’s own bid for EU membership has constantly been thwarted and they may now have given up. EU membership was a strong factor in reconciliation for the island of Ireland but that avenue seems to have closed for Cyprus.
Although Northern Cyprus has been a de jure  member of the EU since 2004, EU law is “suspended” there. Cyprus currently holds the EU presidency for the first time. President Christofias has stressed that the Cyprus Presidency will be a European Presidency, that it would only promote the EU’s interests as a whole, working as an honest broker. Cyprus is the fifth state to ask for a EU bailout. Standard and Poors estimate 15 billion euro will be needed. There is growing fear that the main victim of the Cyprus EU Presidency will be the ongoing re-unification talks.
On July 19 2012, Christofias welcomed an agreement which will continue the identification process of exhumed remains, believed to belong to missing persons in Cyprus. The President announced that soon the first 280 samples of remains, believed to belong to about 70 missing persons, will be delivered to the International Commission on Missing Persons. He also said that the remains of 330 missing persons have been identified, 66 of whom are Turkish Cypriots and the rest Greek Cypriots. He stressed that the healing process for the families of missing persons will only end when the remains of the last of those victims are identified, on the basis of international law. The European Court of Human Rights established that there had been continuing violations by Turkey of Articles 2, 3 and 5 of the Convention concerning the right to life, liberty and security and prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Turkey was found to have failed to conduct an effective investigation into the fate of the Greek Cypriot missing persons who disappeared in life-threatening circumstances or were in Turkish custody at the time of their disappearance.
Mehmet Ali Talat, a leftist like  Christofias, was  president until 2010 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. He said  he wanted a Cypriot federation with a central government and a shared flag  but “the Greek Cypriots aren’t cooperating.” The north has increasingly attracted undesirable elements. Turkish Cyprus attracts fugitives seeking sanctuary in a territory without extradition arrangements, smugglers, human traffickers and gamblers. Electricians, plumbers and bricklayers cross the border to work in  EU territory. Some 80,000 Turkish Cypriots, or about one-third of the population in the north, now have EU passports. They can obtain health insurance and medical treatment in the south, and board direct flights to other countries.
Nicosia is internationally recognised as the capital of Cyprus but buffer zone runs through Ledra Street dividing Greeks and Turks, although the street was re-opened on 3 April 2008.
Eleni Mavrou, a Greek Cypriot MP said in 2005: “Reconciliation means facing our past. It involves accepting the mistakes of  the other side and accepting that both sides have suffered in one way or another and through this process facing the future. It means understanding that we cannot continue living in the past so we should concentrate on the possibility, the capability of creating something together for the future. In the political realm, it means a dialogue that should lead to an agreement on the future constitutional, territorial, settlement of the Cyprus problem.

Reconciliation in Guatemala

Malign Presidents

Ike and Tricky Dick

The only US president I ever saw live and in the flesh was Dwight D Eisenhower. This was in 1962 after he had been replaced by JFK. Ike and Mamie were disembarking from a transatlantic liner at Cobh, County Cork. Eisenhower was the epitome of all that was dull about the 50s. After Eisenhower left office, his reputation declined. Historians have been revising opinions since then. Eisenhower made a good impression with his warning in his farewell address in 1961  about the threat posed by the “military-industrial complex”.

As early as 1953 he had said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children”.

I have described in previous articles the malign influence in Latin America of US presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Saint Jimmy Carter. Does that mean Ike is off the hook? No it does not! Just like other US presidents Eisenhower was willing to do the bidding of Big Banana.

In recent surveys of historians, Eisenhower often is ranked in the top 10 among all U.S. Presidents. Guatemalans might not agree.

Colonial Legacy
As in many of the conflicts I have examined in these articles, the seeds of Guatemalan suffering were sown by imperialism. Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarada (1485-1541) subjugated  the Mayan city-states in the 1500s. Land ownership, mineral production, and agriculture were organized to benefit the imperial power. Even after  independence and  the  lands of the indigenous people  continued to be confiscated.

Deadly Inequality
A grossly unequal distribution of wealth led to continuing conflict with civil rights groups as well as guerrilla groups being labelled “communist” by the US. Guatemala became a Cold War pawn, local campaigners were called communist even if they were fighting for social justice. During the long civil, over 150,000 Guatemalans were  killed or disappeared, and millions were made homeless.

Beatriz Manz, in her  book, Paradise in Ashes, wrote: “The best land is dominated by export-oriented plantations. Three % of landholdings control 65 % of the agricultural surface, while close to 90 % of the landholdings are too small for peasant subsistence…the vast majority of people [are] excluded from basic constitutional guarantees… 60%  of the population lives on less than one dollar per day. More than 95 % of the poor in Guatemala have not attended a single grade of secondary education, and 44 percent have never attended school at all.”

US Involvement
In the 1920s, after a century of involvement in agriculture in Guatemala and the export of its food crops, the US established military missions and  Guatemala’s military was tied to the US through training, aid, and a commitment to protect US economic interests. The Army dominated all aspects of life. Under dictator Jorge Ubico (1931-1944), the  United Fruit Company  gained control of 42% of Guatemala’s land, and was exempted from taxes and import duties. 77% of all exports went to the US and 65% of imports came from the US.

United Fruit, Guatemala’s largest landowner, with 85% of its holdings uncultivated, had long been lobbying the CIA to oust reform governments in Guatemala. In 1954, when the Eisenhower administration was still flush with victory after toppling the Mossadegh government in Iran, United Fruit got its wish. Substantial evidence points to the role of the United Fruit Company, which had several direct ties to the CIA, in the 1954  coup.
Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ law firm had prepared United Fruit’s contracts with Guatemala; his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, belonged to United Fruit’s law firm; John Moors Cabot, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, was the brother of a former United Fruit president; President Eisenhower’s personal secretary was married to the head of United Fruit’s Public Relations Department.

Allen Dulles head of CIA

The US Abolishes Spring

Guatemala has suffered much oppression,  but between 1945 and 1954, there was an experiment with democracy called the “Ten Years of Springtime”. This started with the election of Juan Jose Arevalo to the presidency. Arevalo established the nation’s social security and health systems and a government bureau to look after Mayan interests.

In 1954, the freely elected successor to Arevalo, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA. Land reform had been the main plank of Arbenz’s election platform. An elite 2% of the population owned 70% of the land. Arbenz’s programme was in effect for 18 months, during which 1,500,000 acres were distributed to about 100,000 families. Árbenz himself gave up 1,700 acres  of his own land.


With  US help, Colonel Castillo Armas became the new president. The US Ambassador furnished Armas with lists of radical opponents to be eliminated. Thousands were arrested and many were tortured and killed. United Fruit got all its land back.
Greg Grandin wrote: “ In neither El Salvador nor Guatemala was there even a whiff of serious rural insurrection when the Green Berets, the CIA and the U.S. Agency for International Development began organizing the first security units that would metastasize into a dense, Central America-wide network of death-squad paramilitaries.” Grandin  remarks that “Washington, of course, publicly denied its support for paramilitarism, but the practice of political disappearances took a great leap forward in Guatemala in 1966 with the birth of a death squad created, and directly supervised, by U.S. security advisors.” Between March 3 and March 5 of 1966, more  than 30 leftists were captured, interrogated, tortured and executed. Their bodies were then placed in sacks and dropped into the Pacific Ocean from U.S.-supplied helicopters.

More Malign Presidents
US support for barbarity continued under several administrations (to be fair to Jimmy Carter, in 1979 he ordered a ban on all military aid to the Guatemalan Army). The Reagan Administration signalled to the Guatemalan Army its approval for winning the war by whatever methods and lobbied Congress for more aid. Anyone attempting to improve the lot of the peasants was subject to torture, mutilation, and death. Men were found decapitated or castrated. Some had their eyes gouged-out, their testicles cut off and put in their mouths, their hands or tongues cut off; women had their breasts cut off.

General Efrain Rios Montt, a graduate of the School of the Americas (SOA), came to power in a 1982 coup. He stated that he had “declared a state of siege so that we could kill legally”. Rios Montt moved the war from urban centres to the countryside where “the spirit of the lord” guided him against “communist subversives’, mostly indigenous Indians. During the 17 months of Rios Montt’s “Christian” campaign, 400 villages were destroyed, 10 – 20,000 Indians were killed, and over 100,000 fled to Mexico. Early in 1983, President Reagan resumed military shipments to Guatemala, claiming that Montt’s program against the guerrilla insurgency was working.

Reagan’s war on drugs had no significant impact on drug production and trafficking but the  spraying of lethal herbicides by anti-drug helicopters and planes caused widespread damage, poisoning large numbers of people, animals, fish, and plants.

In 1989, the Bush pére administration, under the guise of humanitarian aid, sent National Guard units to Guatemala to provide medical services. They served in areas where the guerrilla movement was the strongest. As villagers were getting “humanitarian” help, they were questioned about the type of organizations they had, who their leaders were, and what type of people visited their community.


Ros Montt

US-Sponsored Genocide

The Guatemalan atrocities are  sometimes called ‘The Silent Holocaust’. In one of the earliest counter-insurgency operations in 1966, the military killed an estimated 10,000 people to eliminate a band of just 100 rebels. Children were often beaten against walls, or thrown alive into pits where the bodies of adults were later thrown; they were also tortured and raped. Victims of all ages often had their limbs amputated, or were impaled and left to die slowly. Others were doused in petrol and set alight, or disembowelled while still alive. Yet others were shot repeatedly, or tortured and shut up alone to die in pain. The wombs of pregnant women were cut open. Women were routinely raped while being tortured. Women – now widows – who lived could scarcely survive the trauma: ‘the presence of sexual violence in the social memory of the communities has become a source of collective shame’.”
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Reconciliation was  hard when so many civilians had taken part in atrocities and were now shielded by an amnesty law bitterly resented by victims. There were also many guerrillas and ex-soldiers to demobilise and resettle. All the same, a policy of reconciliation was introduced and, with difficulty, maintained.
According to the U.N.-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification,  which began work in July 1997,  government forces and state-sponsored paramilitaries were responsible for over 93% of the human rights violations during the war. The report recommended: the memory of the victims should be preserved, there should be compensation, and the democratic process should be strengthened.

In April 1998, another report, the Catholic Church’s “Recuperation of Historical Memory” (also called “Never Again”), was published. The report was publicly presented by Bishop Juan Gerardi; two days later he was murdered. In June 2001 a former head of military intelligence (a graduate of the School of the Americas) and two other officers were sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder.

Bishop Gerardi

Millions of documents related to crimes committed during the civil war were found abandoned by the former Guatemalan police and could form the basis for future prosecutions. The current democratically-elected president, Otto Pérez Molina, could be a barrier to further legal action as he, a retired general, was the head of intelligence in Guatemala during the civil war. American journalist Francisco Goldman has presented  evidence that Pérez may have participated in the 1998 conspiracy to murder Bishop Gerardi. American lawyer Jennifer Harbury has suggested  that Pérez probably issued the orders to detain and torture her husband the guerrilla leader Efraín Bámaca Velásquez In 1992.
Guatemala Today
The conflict officially ended in 1996. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported in 1999.  Is Guatemala in 2012 a nation at peace with itself?
Vigilante justice is  widespread in Guatemala . There was a recent press report of  a  mob burning a police station after police  intervened to stop the lynching of five accused killers. There were 35 attempted lynchings in the first three months of 2012. Lynchings of suspected criminals increased from 25 in 2004 to 147 in the first ten months of 2011.The 651 instances of “people’s justice” during those seven years resulted in 216 deaths and left another 911 victims seriously injured.
On the night of 12 June 2012, José Tavico Tzunun was murdered in Santa Cruz del Qiché. He helped to organise the town’s referendum on establishing a moratorium on mining and dams. The following day anti-mining activist Yolanda Oquelí was shot while driving home from a barricade against a proposed gold mine in her community of San Jose del Golfo.
Although the conquistadors ended their pillage centuries ago, Mayans are still prey to extractive multi-national companies.

Reconciliation in Honduras

Malign Influence of US in Latin America.

Honduras, like many another Latin American nation, has suffered from its proximity to its powerful northern neighbour. The US commitment to capitalism and opposition to communism has meant that it has been prepared to support the use of terror and torture in Latin America.  In 2012, however, perhaps the greatest danger to the citizens of Honduras arises from the drug-taking habits of US citizens.

Ousting of Manuel Zelaya

The Honduran Truth and Reconciliation commission was set up to investigate the  constitutional crisis in 2009 which culminated in the ousting of democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya. However, the troubles of this benighted nation go back much further than 2009.

Zelaya was popular in some quarters and his  economic and social policies earned him praise from labour unions and civil society groups. He  planned to convert the Soto Cano Air Base, where one of the three US Southern Command Task forces is based, into a civilian airport. His attempts to forge alliances with the leftish administrations of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, caused anxiety in some US circles.

There was widespread international condemnation of the “coup”. All Latin American nations (with the exception of Honduras itself), as well as the US, United Nations, and others, publicly condemned Zelaya’s ousting. Every country in the region, except the US, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country. President Obama said: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras.” A good detailed description of the events can be found at

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in May 2010 to investigate the crisis of 2009.  The Commission concluded that Zelaya’s  removal from office was a coup but also criticised Zelaya. It said the move was illegal and not a constitutional succession as some of Zelaya’s opponents said. The Commission identified Zelaya’s decision to press ahead with a referendum on constitutional change as “a point of no return”. Zelaya’s opponents  argued that the referendum was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president. Zelaya  repeatedly denied this. The report also said that 20 people were killed in the repression which followed the coup.

Michael Kergin a retired Canadian career diplomat,  was a member of the Honduran TRC. He wrote: “There are indeed factors which might explain, but do not excuse, the excessive use of force during this period: a traditional culture of violence in Honduras, decentralized control over a widely and thinly dispersed police force; and a lack of professional training at the operational level. The small country was also suffering collective paranoia out of its isolation from the international community, exacerbated by its former president testing its borders with support from South American heavy hitters such as Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina.”

The Power of Fruit

The USA has bullied  Honduran governments  since the late 19th century mainly to support the dominance of US companies, like the United Fruit Company, who built an enclave economy in the north controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to national economic growth, but attracted thousands of workers from other parts of the country. The fruit companies also encouraged immigration of workers from Jamaica and Belize thus introducing  an African descended, English speaking and largely Protestant population into the country, fuelling ethnic tensions.

Defending Freedom against Communism

Honduras did not suffer as horrific a conflict as neighbouring El Salvador  but the Honduran army  quietly waged a campaign against  communist  militias like the  Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, who employed kidnappings and bombings in their fight against the government.  The Cinchoneros claimed to represent the country’s poor and opposed Honduras’ right-wing governments, though their revolutionary agenda was never a serious threat. However, their links with other Latin American guerrilla groups caused the US anxiety.

During the early 1980s, the US maintained a military presence in Honduras in order to support the Nicaraguan contras. There was  a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units, most notably Battalion 316. Battalion 601 had collaborated in assassinations with the Chilean DINA. They also collaborated with the Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance. At least 19 Battalion 316 members were graduates of the US School of the Americas. Training was also  provided in Pinochet’s Chile.


Reconciliation was moved along in May 2011 when a court decided to drop the last of the charges, these relating to corruption, that were levelled against Zelaya following his removal. Zelaya returned to Honduras in May 2011 and told a roaring crowd: “The problem of poverty, of corruption … will not be solved with violence, but through more democracy, greater citizen participation and better transparency.”

Current President Porfirio Lobo was democratically elected, but the legality of his position is compromised by the ousting of Zelaya. Under President Lobo, Zelaya returned to a country that has enacted many of the changes he advocated before his removal, including a change in the procedures for amending the constitution. In a recent demonstration of Honduran progress, Zelaya spoke to a National Popular Resistance Front rally and encouraged peaceful change.

Crime, Drugs  and Human Rights

According to Guatemala’s planning minister, Fernando Carrera: “Honduras is today one of the most violent countries in the world, and the principal thoroughfare for drugs on their way from the producing countries in the south to the consuming countries in the north.” Drug cartels bribe security forces and judges to look the other way. Honduran security chief Oscar Álvarez resigned because he said he lacked the resources to stem police corruption.

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world at 82 homicides per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Some, such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, suggest the only answer is to stop fighting drug trafficking and legalize it.

Despite growing support for de-criminalisation in the US, the US is standing firm against it. Many Latin American governments are calling legalisation to ease the problems they have because of the drug culture of US citizens.

Obama Calls for more Human Rights

In an April 26 conversation with President Lobo, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his concern about human rights in Honduras. A number of journalists and civic activists have been killed.  President Lobo has responded by naming a special human rights advisor to ensure that these killings and other acts of intimidation are investigated. He welcomed a team from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to visit Honduras
Current  news is that Obama decided to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants no older than 30 with high school degrees and no criminal history a chance to stay and work in the US. The president has said that as many as 800,000 young illegal immigrants living in the U.S. could benefit from the change. However, this was too late for Marlon Roberto Cortes who is back in Tegucigalpa. Cortes handcuffed and hauled to a holding centre in Boston and deported to Honduras  in March without being able to say goodbye to his family.

“The country in which I could have had the chance to get ahead is the United States,” Cortes said. “I did everything I had to do to get that and I don’t understand why they wouldn’t let me … I feel more American than Honduran.”

Trade Imbalance, Sweat Shops and Export of Workers

In 2003, Honduras sent around 370 soldiers to Iraq to support the US invasion. This was largely an attempt to improve foreign relations with the US over the issue of the many thousands of Hondurans working in the US . The money these migrants send back to their families in Honduras is a crucial factor in the Honduran economy.
The relationship between the US and Latin America is a complex and unequal one. The USA is Honduras’s chief trading partner, with two-way trade in goods increasing to over $7 billion in 2006. Trade is dominated by the maquila industry, which imports yarn and textiles from the US and exports finished clothing. Two-thirds of the foreign direct investment comes from the US.

Reconciliation and the Future

According to Michael Kergin: “Lack of confidence in the instruments of government to effect reform remains widespread throughout the country. Hondurans often look to the international community to address domestic problems … Audiences were not impressed with the commissioners’ observation that change imposed from outside and without the support of the Hondurans themselves and their institutions of government would not endure or prosper.”

Kergin believes: “The chances of avoiding the mistakes of the past are improved when Hondurans discuss ways of strengthening their institutions of government. By looking to the future, rather than by exhuming past divisions, Hondurans are more likely to reach some form of lasting accommodation. To the extent that the Honduran Commission has facilitated a dialogue of reconciliation, its work will have been worthwhile.”
However, while President Lobo  has some  popular support, there is a general view that he will be unable to prevail against entrenched interests. There is little  confidence that legislators will be prepared to undertake the necessary institutional reforms or liberate the political party structure from the preponderant influence of the economic oligarchs.

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