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Ethnic Cleansing in Guatemala

The ethnic cleansing in Bosnia is a human rights outrage and deserves international condemnation. But we must also deal with the ethnic cleansing done in our immediate sphere of political and economic influence. I am referring to Guatemala.

Since 1954 our country has been an accomplice in an ethnic cleansing. From that date to the present, a counterproductive entity known as the Guatemalan army has governed Guatemala. Yes, Guatemala has its demonstration elections. But the “elected” president simply does not have executive power. The army does.

Why call this army counterproductive? Because its sole purpose is to control and terrorize the people of Guatemala. We are talking about one of the few countries with an indigenous majority. The Guatemalan army has eliminated over 600 indigenous villages in the past decade in a policy of ethnic cleansing. Villages have been bombed, strafed and napalmed. The women have been raped and whole populations have been massacred. Torture and disappearances are routine. There are few political prisoners. Apprehension by the military generally means torture and death.

The difference between Guatemala and Bosnia is that the United States has paid the bill and directed the action in Guatemala since 1954. There are currently some 2,500 U.S. troops in Guatemala. I see no indication that their presence is to stop the genocide. The “Military Civic Action” projects they are engaged in have been operative in Guatemala since the mid-1960s. These actions have only served to give additional power to the military and have made its generals part of the land-owning oligarchy.

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Indians are forced into civil patrols and into military service. If they are paid at all, servants in Guatemala City work for $5 or $10 per month. Indians are virtual slaves in Guatemala.

Before we intervene in Bosnia to stop a madness for which we are not responsible, let us stop the madness for which we are responsible in Guatemala. Costa Rica eliminated its army in 1948. Let Guatemala follow that excellent example and use its resources for the social betterment of its magnificent indigenous people.

BLASE BONPANE, Director

Office of the Americas, Los Angeles

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