Status Quo Side: Guatemala
Non-Status Quo Side: Castillo Armas exiles
Region: Western Hemisphere
Conflict Type: External Intervention
Issues in Dispute: Governance Strategic
The Communist movement, surfacing during the regime of Juan Jose Arevalo, strongly influenced the policies of his elected successor Jacobo Arbenz, who took office in March '51. His anti-US policies reinforced US fear of a possible Communist base in the Western Hemisphere.
Anti-Arbenz Guatemalan exiles under Col. Castillo Armas gathered in Honduras to plan an invasion. When the Organization of American States (OAS) Caracas conference failed to support multilateral intervention, the US through the CIA increased its support of Castillo. In May the arrival of Soviet-bloc weapons prompted a US-Honduras mutual assistance treaty (matching a recent one with Nicaragua) with arms deliveries to both. Fear of invasion prompted severe repression by the regime which forfeited public support, while the military urged Arbenz to reject his Communist supporters.
Castillo Armas attacked with 200-300 troops. Guatemala protested to a) the UN which called for a cease-fire and then deferred to b) the OAS which appointed a fact-finding mission, whose entry Arbenz refused. By June 26 the invaders, with clandestine US support, were threatening the capital, and the army approached the US for help in arranging a cease-fire. A strongly anti-Arbenz junta was eventually formed under Col. Elfego Monzon.
A cease-fire agreement was reached. Castillo Armas was elected to head the junta on July 8 and received US recognition on July 13, but the conflict between left and right that was to take 100,000 lives over 35 years continued in various forms.
Efforts to end the conflict and confront its root causes accelerated in the 1990's. In 1992 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchu. In March 1996 Newly-elected president Alvaro Arzu ordered an end to offensive operations and the rebel URMG avoided clashes. Following mediation in Oslo by the so-called Group of Friends of the Guatemalan Peace Process, on December 4 the government and rebel leaders formally renounced the use of arms.
A peace treaty was signed promising to end conflict-breeding discrimination against Guatemala's 60 percent Mayan population, plus reduction in the power of the often-brutal army and creation of a Truth Commission.
In February, 1999 the Truth Commission attributed the vast majority of the civil war's 150,000 deaths to the Guatemalan Army. In March, US President Clinton acknowledged the US role in a "dark and painful period", and Jorge Ismael Soto, who led the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity rebels, apologized for the abuses it committed during the 36-year civil war.
Copyright © 2000 Lincoln P. Bloomfield and Allen Moulton