Guatemala: Slaughter Was Part of Reagan’s Hard Line

Source: New York Times

In 1966, the U.S. Army’s Handbook of Counterinsurgency Guidelines summarized the results of a war game waged in a fictitious country unmistakably modeled on Guatemala. The rules allowed players to use “selective terror” but prohibited “mass terror.” “Genocide,” the guidelines stipulated, was “not an alternative.”

A decade and a half later, genocide was indeed an option in Guatemala, supported materially and morally by Ronald Reagan’s White House. Reagan famously took a hard line in Central America, coming under strong criticism for supporting the contras in Nicaragua and financing counterinsurgency in El Salvador.

His administration’s actions in Guatemala are less well known, but even before his 1980 election, two retired generals, who played prominent roles in Reagan’s campaign, reportedly traveled to Central America and told Guatemalan officials that “Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done.”

Once in office, Reagan, continued to supply munitions and training to the Guatemalan army, despite a ban on military aid imposed by the Carter administration (existing contracts were exempt from the ban). And economic aid continued to flow, increasing to $104 million in 1986, from $11 million in 1980, nearly all of it going to the rural western highlands, where the Mayan victims of the genocide lived.

This aid helped the Guatemalan military implement a key part of its counterinsurgency campaign: following the massacres, soldiers herded survivors into “model villages,” detention camps really, where they used food and other material supplied by the U.S. Agency for International Development to establish control.

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