Guatemalan history is marked by the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with a small group of Guatemalans overthrew the freely-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 after the government expropriated unused land owned by the United Fruit Company, a U.S.-based banana merchant. The CIA codename for the coup was Operation PBSUCCESS, its second successful overthrow of a foreign government. The subsequent military rule, beginning with dictator Carlos Castillo Armas led to over 30 years of civil war that, from 1960, led to the death an estimated 200,000 Guatemalan civilians. According to the U.N.-sponsored Truth Commission, government forces and paramilitaries were responsible for over 90% of the human rights violations during the war. During the first 10 years, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures of all political tendencies, but in the last years, they were thousands of mostly rural Mayans farmers and non-combatants. More than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed and over one million people became refugees. This is considered one of the worst ethnic cleansings in modern Latin America. In certain areas, such as Baja Verapaz, the Truth Commission considered that the Guatemalan state engaged in an intentional policy of genocide against particular ethnic groups.
From the 1950s to the 1990s (with a suspension of military aid between 1977 and 1982), the US government directly supported Guatemala’s army with training, weapons and money. The United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) were sent to Guatemala to transform its army into a “modern counter-insurgency force” and made it the most powerful and sophisticated in Central America. In 1999, then US president Bill Clintonstated that the United States was wrong to have provided support to Guatemalan military forces that took part in the brutal civilian killings . Further CIA involvement included the training of 5,000 Cubans opposed to Fidel Castro and airstrips in its territory for what later became the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.
In 1982, four Marxist groups formed the guerrilla organization Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). A bloody 36-year war ended in1996 with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government of President ﾁlvaro Arz・, negotiated by the United Nations. Both sides made major concessions. The army controlled urban centers, while URNG maintained a strong presence in the countryside. Due to the military’s use of rampant torture, disappearances, “scorched earth” warfare and many other brutal methods, the country became a pariah state internationally. In 1992, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rigoberta Mench・, an indigenous human rights activist, for her efforts to bring international attention to the government-sponsored genocide against the indigenous population.
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