Ten Years of Peace in Guatemala?

Friday marks the ten year anniversary of the signing of Guatemala’s Peace Accords, which ended the country’s 36-year civil war.

The war, one of Latin America’s bloodiest, left some 200,000 mostly indigenous people dead and tens of thousands disappeared. The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the 1954 CIA-orchestrated coup, which overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. In the following decades Washington trained, equipped and supported Guatemala’s military, which carried out a reign of terror against the country’s citizens—all in the name of fighting communism.

But since then the peace accords have marked the end of fighting, not the beginning of peace. Nor has it brought about the political, economic, cultural and social reforms outlined in the treaty.

"It is cause for concern that not only reforms are progressing slowly, but that more and more people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the State’s inability to deliver the promised security, equality and justice," UN Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in May after visiting the country. "Nothing can exemplify this better than the delay encountered by victims of the armed conflict in obtaining justice and reparation. Where impunity is the rule for past violations, it should come as no surprise that it also prevails for current crimes."

This culture of impunity that pervades in Guatemala explains why the violence continues. In August the military attacked returned-refugee communities under the rubric of the "war on drugs." Guatemalan President Oscar Berger has used house burnings, demolitions and violence against indigenous communities to "settle" land disputes. And the government continues to use the police and military to protect investors’ rights, espescially in the mining industry, at the expense of the Peace Accords and the human rights of Guatemalans.

In addition, human rights workers, along with judges, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists, face murder, kidnappings, death threats and other forms of violence. In fact, the UN just signed an agreement with Guatemala to investigate and prosecute members of clandestine armed groups, believed to be holdovers from the civil war.

"Guatemala is on the road to becoming a failed state," said Gen. Otto Perez Molina who signed the 1996 peace deals for the army.

But ironically, Perez Molina, a "School of the Americas" alumnus and former CIA asset who is running for president in next year’s election, serves as yet another example of impunity in Guatemala. The former chief of Guatemala’s military intelligence has been linked to massacres in the northern highlands, as well as the assassination of a judge.

"Otto Perez Molina should be in front of a judge but instead he is a congressman and running for president," human rights investigator Gustavo Meono told Reuters.

Remarkably, Washington recently touted Guatemala’s democratic credentials when it backed it for a seat on the UN Security Council. Maybe Guatemala has achieved democracy and peace by the White House’s standards.