Conflict Across Latin America



Cuba and the Castros

The Castros rose to power against a backdrop of widespread dissatisfaction with Fulgencio Batista’s corrupt and repressive regime.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the rise of the Castros

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was a Cuban revolutionary and politician who governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. Under his administration, Cuba became a one-party socialist state, industry and business were nationalized, and state socialist reforms were implemented throughout society.
  • In the decades following its independence from Spain in 1902, Cuba experienced a period of significant instability, enduring a number of revolts, coups, and periods of U.S. military intervention.
  • Fulgencio Batista, a former soldier who served as the elected president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, became president for the second time in March 1952 after seizing power in a military coup. Although Batista was supported by the Communist Party of Cuba during his first term as President, he became strongly anti-communist during his second term, gaining him political and military support from the United States.
  • Fidel Castro petitioned for the overthrow of Batista, whom he accused of corruption and tyranny; however, Castro’s constitutional arguments were rejected by the Cuban courts. After deciding that the Cuban regime could not be replaced via legal avenues, Castro resolved to launch an armed revolution.
  • Castro’s Movement attacked a number of military installations, after which he and his brother Raul were imprisoned. Upon release, he took his Movement to Mexico to regroup.
  • At the end of 1956, the Movement returned to Cuba, using the Sierra Maestra mountain range as its base. Fighting between the Movement and the Batista regime would continue off and on through the beginning of 1959.
  • The US imposed an economic embargo on the Cuban government and recalled its ambassador during the conflict, further weakening the Batista government’s mandate. Batista’s support among Cubans began to fade, with former supporters either joining the revolutionaries or distancing themselves from the regime.
  • On August 21, 1958, Castro’s forces began an offensive in the Oriente province, proceeding west from the Sierra Maestra mountain range toward Santa Clara. On January 2, 1959, the military stopped resisting their progress and Castro took the city, ending the revolution in a victory for his Movement.
  • The Cuban Revolution was a crucial turning point in U.S.-Cuban relations, with the American establishment fearing further Communist insurgencies would spread throughout Latin America as they had in Southeast Asia.
  • As the Americans took a harder line against the Cuban revolutionary government, the Soviet Union became Cuba’s main ally and ideological influence.

Key Terms

  • escopeteros: Scouts and pickets from the Sierra Maestra and other mountain ranges during the Cuban Revolution. They were responsible for semi-continuously holding terrain against smaller sized Batista patrols, as well as providing first alerts, communications, protected supply routes, essential intelligence, and captured weapons to the mainline Castro forces in the high mountains.
  • embargo: An embargo (derived from the Spanish word embargo) is the partial or complete prohibition of commerce and trade with a particular country or group of countries. Embargoes are considered a strong diplomatic measure to elicit a specific result from the country on which it is imposed. Embargoes are similar to economic sanctions and are generally considered legal barriers to trade as opposed to blockades, which are acts of war.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was a Cuban revolutionary and politician who governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. Politically a Marxist-Leninist and Cuban nationalist, he also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. Under his administration, Cuba became a one-party socialist state, industry and business were nationalized, and state socialist reforms were implemented throughout society.

Background and Causes of the Cuban Revolution

In the decades following its independence from Spain in 1902, Cuba experienced a period of significant instability, enduring a number of revolts, coups, and periods of U.S. military intervention. Fulgencio Batista, a former soldier who served as the elected president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, became president for the second time in March 1952 after seizing power in a military coup and canceling the planned 1952 elections. Although Batista was relatively progressive during his first term, he proved far more dictatorial and indifferent to popular concerns in the 1950s. While Cuba remained plagued by high unemployment and limited water infrastructure, Batista antagonized the population by forming lucrative links to organized crime and allowing American companies to dominate the Cuban economy. Throughout the 1950s, Havana became the setting for the American mafia, corrupt law enforcement officials, and their political elected cronies to profit off gambling, prostitution, and the drug trade. By the end of the 1950s, Havana had about 270 brothels. Additionally, marijuana and cocaine were as plentiful as and sometimes similarly priced to alcohol.

Although Batista was supported by the Communist Party of Cuba during his first term as President, he became strongly anti-communist during his second term, gaining him political and military support from the United States. Batista also developed a powerful security infrastructure to silence political opponents during his second term. In the months following the March 1952 coup, Fidel Castro, then a young lawyer and activist, petitioned for the overthrow of Batista, whom he accused of corruption and tyranny; however, Castro’s constitutional arguments were rejected by the Cuban courts. After deciding that the Cuban regime could not be replaced via legal avenues, Castro resolved to launch an armed revolution. To this end, he and his brother Raul founded a paramilitary organization known as “The Movement,” stockpiling weapons and recruiting around 1,200 followers from Havana’s disgruntled working class by the end of 1952.

The Revolution

Fidel and Raul gathered Movement fighters and attacked a number of military installations, including the Moncada Barracks in Santiago. Many rebels were captured and executed by the military, and Fidel and Raul were imprisoned following a highly political trial in which Fidel defended himself for nearly four hours, ending with the infamous words, “Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me.” The brothers were sentenced to more than 10 years each, but released in 1955 as a result of broad political pressure placed upon the Batista government. Soon after their release, the brothers traveled to Mexico with a group of exiles to prepare for Batista’s overthrow. In June 1955, Fidel met with the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who joined his cause. The revolutionaries named themselves the 26th of July Movement in reference to the attack on the Moncada Barracks that took place on that date in 1953.

image

Che and Fidel: Revolutionary leaders Che Guevara (left) and Fidel Castro (right) in 1961.

On November 25, 1956, the 26th of July Movement departed Veracruz, Mexico for Cuba, arriving a week later. They took to the Sierra Maestra mountains, a range in southeastern Cuba, and were attacked three days after beginning their trek by Batista’s army. No more than 20 of the original 82 participants survived. On March 13, 1957, a separate group of revolutionaries, the anticommunist Student Revolutionary Directorate (RD), stormed the Presidential Palace in Havana, attempting to assassinate Batista and decapitate the government. The attack failed and the RD’s leader was killed during a shootout.

After this, the United States imposed an economic embargo on the Cuban government and recalled its ambassador, further weakening the Batista government’s mandate. As a result, Batista’s support among Cubans began to fade, with former supporters either joining the revolutionaries or distancing themselves from the regime. Nonetheless, the mafia and U.S. businessmen maintained their support for the regime. Batista’s government resorted to brutal methods to keep Cuba’s cities under control.

Meanwhile, Castro’s forces in the Sierra Maestra mountains staged successful attacks on small garrisons of Batista’s troops. Additionally, poorly armed irregular forces not associated with Castro known as escopeteros harassed Batista’s forces in the foothills and plains of Oriente Province. Eventually the escopeteros provided direct military support to Castro’s main forces by protecting supply lines and sharing intelligence. Over time, the Sierra Maestra mountains came under Castro’s complete control. In addition to armed resistance, the rebels used propaganda to their advantage. A pirate radio station called Radio Rebelde (“Rebel Radio”) was set up in February 1958, allowing Castro and his forces to broadcast their message nationwide within enemy territory.

Although Castro’s forces remained fairly small, they were continuously successful in forcing Batista’s army to retreat whenever the two forces met. Finally, Batista responded to Castro’s successes with an attack on the mountains called Operation Verano, or to the rebels, la Ofensiva. The operation was close for some time, but the tide turned in Batista’s favor on July 29, 1958, when his troops almost completely destroyed Castro’s 300-man army at the Battle of Las Mercedes. Castro asked for and was granted a cease-fire on August 1. Within a week, Castro’s forces escaped back into the mountains.

image

Raúl Castro and Che Guevara: Raúl Castro (left) with his arm around his second-in-command, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, in their Sierra de Cristal mountain stronghold in Oriente Province, Cuba, in 1958.

On August 21, 1958, Castro’s forces began their own offensive in the Oriente province, proceeding west toward Santa Clara. As a column of rebels led by Guevara entered territory where the RD had been fighting Batista’s forces, the two groups, seeing past initial friction, joined together to rout the army. By December 31, 1958, both groups of rebels met with the 26th of July Movement troops headed by Camilo Cienfuegos in Santa Clara, and the city fell to their combined forces. News of Republic hours later. When Castro learned of Batista’s flight from Cuba, he began negotiations to take over Santiago de Cuba. On January 2, 1959, the military commander in the city ordered troops not to fight, and Castro’s forces took the city. Castro then arrived in Havana on January 8 after a long victory march.

International Reactions and  Foreign Policy

The Cuban Revolution was a crucial turning point in U.S.-Cuban relations. Although John F. Kennedy expressed further Communist insurgencies would spread throughout Latin America as they had in Southeast Asia caused a reverse in tactics. After the revolutionary government nationalized all U.S. property in Cuba in August 1960, the Eisenhower administration froze all Cuban assets on American soil, severed diplomatic ties, and tightened its embargo of Cuba. In 1961, the U.S. government backed an armed counter-revolutionary assault on the Bay of Pigs with the aim of ousting Castro, but the counter-revolutionaries were swiftly defeated by the Cuban military. Castro, meanwhile, resented the Americans for providing aid to the Batista government during the revolution and attempting to subvert the Cuban revolutionary government militarily and economically in subsequent years.

Following the American embargo, the Soviet Union became Cuba’s main ally and ideological influence. The two Communist countries quickly developed close military and intelligence ties, culminating in the stationing of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962, an act that triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis. Influenced by the expansion of the Soviet Union into Europe after the 1917 Russian Revolution, Castro sought to export his revolution to other countries in the Caribbean and beyond, sending weapons to Algerian rebels as early as 1960. In the following decades, Cuba became heavily involved in supporting Communist insurgencies and independence movements in many developing countries, sending military aid to insurgents in Ghana, Nicaragua, and Yemen, among others. Cuba continued to maintain close links to the Soviets until the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. The end of Soviet economic aid led to an economic crisis and famine throughout Cuba known as the Special Period.

The Guatemalan Civil War

The Guatemalan Civil War spanned nearly four decades, stemmed from a number of institutionalized grievances among different social classes, and included a large-scale, one-sided campaign of violence against the civilian population by the state.

Learning Objectives

Explain the controversy surrounding the Guatemalan Civil War

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Guatemalan Civil War took place from 1960 to 1996 between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups supported chiefly by ethnic Maya indigenous people and Ladino peasants, who together made up the rural poor.
  • Guatemalan society was composed of three sharply defined classes throughout this period: Criollos, Ladinos, and indigenous peoples.
  • Democratic elections during the Guatemalan Revolution in 1944 and 1951 brought popular leftist governments to power, but a U.S.-backed coup in 1954 installed the military regime of Carlos Castillo Armas, who was followed by a series of conservative military dictators.
  • On November 13, 1960, a group of left-wing officers from the national military academy led a failed revolt against the autocratic government of General Ydigoras Fuentes. The surviving officers fled into the hills of eastern Guatemala and established an insurgent movement known as the MR-13 (Movimiento Revolucionario 13 Noviembre).
  • As well as fighting between government forces and rebel groups, the conflict included a large -scale, coordinated campaign of one-sided violence by the Guatemalan state against the civilian population.
  • In 1970, Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio became the first of a series of military dictator representing the Institutional Democratic Party or PID that would rule the country for the next 12 years.
  • Starting in 1983, de facto president Mejía Victores allowed a gradual return to democracy in Guatemala.
  • Under de Leon, the peace process, now brokered by the United Nations, took on new life. The government and the URNG signed agreements on human rights (March 1994), resettlement of displaced persons (June 1994), historical clarification (June 1994), and indigenous rights (March 1995).
  • Under the Arzú administration, peace negotiations were concluded, and the government and URNG, which became a legal party, signed peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict in December 1996.

Key Terms

  • genocide: The intentional act to destroy a people (usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group) in whole or in part.
  • disappeared: A person who is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization, or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization. Following abduction, there is a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate or whereabouts, essentially placing the victim outside the protection of the law.

The Guatemalan Civil War took place from 1960 to 1996. It was fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups supported chiefly by ethnic Maya indigenous people and Ladino peasants, who together make up the rural poor. The government forces of Guatemala have been condemned for committing genocide against the Maya population of Guatemala during the civil war and for widespread human rights violations against civilians.

Background

After the 1871 revolution, the Liberal government of Justo Rufino Barrios escalated coffee production in Guatemala, which required much land and many workers. To support these needs, Barrios established the Settler Rule Book, which forced the native population work for low wages for Criollo and German settler landowners. Barrios also confiscated the native population’s land, which had been protected during Spanish rule and the Conservative government of Rafael Carrera. Barrios redistributed the confiscated land to his Liberal friends, who in turn became important landowners.

Societal Structure

Guatemalan society was composed of three sharply defined classes throughout this period. Criollos were a minority group who descended from both the ancient families of the Spaniards that conquered Central America and the Indians who had been conquered by the Spaniards. As of the 1920s, the Criollos led the country both politically and intellectually by virtue of their education, which, although poor by European standards of the time, remained superior to that of the rest of the people in the country. That was partially because Criollo families controlled or owned most of the cultivated areas of Guatemala and were the only group allowed in either of the main political parties. The Guatemalan middle class, Ladinos, was composed of people with heritage from the native and black populations as well as Criollos. Ladinos held almost no political power in the 1920s and made up the bulk of artisans, storekeepers, tradesmen, and minor officials. In the eastern part of the country, many Ladinos were agricultural laborers.

The majority of the Guatemalan population was composed of indigenous peoples referred to as Indians. Many had no formal education and served as soldiers or agricultural workers. Within the indigenous population were further categories: “Mozos colonos” settled on plantations and were given   small piece of land to cultivate on their own in return for their work on the plantation itself, while “mozos jornaleros” were day-laborers who were contracted to work for certain periods of time and paid a daily wage in return.

Both of these categories typically worked to pay off debts to higher class individuals, who in turn encouraged the assumption of further debt on the part of the indigenous person. Often, due to the large amount of debt and small amount of pay, a mozo essentially became an indentured servant to the owner of their debt. If a mozo refused to work or attempted to run away, the owner of their debt could have them pursued and even imprisoned. Nonetheless, some indigenous people remained independent tillers, who lived in remote provinces and survived by growing a subsistence crop of maize, beans, or wheat. Occasionally a small margin of their crop would be available for sale in town markets, but the travel to get to these markets could be arduous.

Initial Phases of the Civil War

Democratic elections during the Guatemalan Revolution in 1944 and 1951 brought popular leftist governments to power, but a United States backed coup d’état in 1954 installed the military regime of Carlos Castillo Armas, followed by a series of conservative military dictators. On November 13, 1960, a group of left-wing junior military officers from the national military academy led a failed revolt against the autocratic government of General Ydigoras Fuentes, who usurped power in 1958 following the assassination of incumbent Armas. The surviving officers fled into the hills of eastern Guatemala and later established communication with the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. By 1962, those surviving officers had established an insurgent movement known as the MR-13 (Movimiento Revolucionario 13 Noviembre), named after the date of the initial officers’ revolt. Through the early phase of the conflict, the MR-13 was a principal component of the insurgent movement in Guatemala.

The MR-13 later initiated contact with the outlawed PGT (Guatemalan Labour Party), composed and led by middle-class intellectuals and students, and a student organization called the Movimiento 12 de Abril (April 12 Movement). These groups merged into an coalition guerrilla organization called the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR) in December 1962. Also affiliated with the FAR was the FGEI (Edgar Ibarra Guerrilla Front). The MR-13, PGT, and FGEI each operated in different parts of the country as three separate “frentes” (fronts). The MR-13 established itself in the mostly Ladino departments of Izabal and Zacapa. The FGEI established itself in Sierra de las Minas, and the PGT operated as an urban guerrilla front. Each of these three “frentes” (comprising no more than 500 combatants) was led by former members of the 1960 army revolt who has been trained in counterinsurgency warfare by the United States.

As well as fighting between government forces and rebel groups, the conflict included a large-scale, coordinated campaign of one-sided violence by the Guatemalan state against the civilian population from the mid-1960s onward. The military intelligence services (G2 or S2) and an affiliated intelligence organization known as La Regional or Archivo, headquartered in an annex of the presidential palace, were responsible for coordinating killings and “disappearances” of opponents of the state, suspected insurgents, and those deemed by the intelligence services to be collaborators. The Guatemalan state was the first in Latin America to engage in widespread use of forced disappearances against its opposition, with the number of disappeared estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000 from 1966 until the end of the war. In rural areas where the insurgency maintained its strongholds, the repression amounted to wholesale slaughter of the peasantry and massacres of entire villages, starting in Izabal and Zacapa (1966–68) and later in the predominantly Mayan western highlands. In the early 1980s, the killings reached the scale of genocide.

image

Exhumation in the Ixil triangle in Guatemala: Queqchí people carrying their loved one’s remains after an exhumation in Cambayal in Alta Verapaz department, Guatemala in February 2012. Since 1997, the Centre of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences (CAFCA) has been helping to heal the deep wounds caused by Guatemala’s internal conflict.

Domination by Military Rulers

In 1970, Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio became the first of a series of military dictators representing the Institutional Democratic Party, or PID. The PID dominated Guatemalan politics for 12 years via electoral fraud favoring two of Arana’s proteges: General Kjell Eugenio Laugerud Garcia in 1974 and General Romeo Lucas Garcia in 1978. Also during the 1970s, continuing social discontent gave rise to an insurgency among large populations of indigenous people and peasants, who traditionally bore the brunt of unequal land tenure.The PID lost its grip on Guatemalan politics when General Efraín Ríos Montt, together with a group of junior army officers, seized power in a military coup on March 23, 1982. During the 1980s, the Guatemalan military assumed almost absolute government power for five years. It successfully infiltrated and eliminated enemies in every socio-political institution of the nation, including the political, social, and intellectual classes. In the final stage of the civil war, the military developed a parallel, semi-visible, low profile, but high-effect, control of Guatemala’s national life.

Mejia Victores Regime and Democratic Transition

Ríos Montt was deposed on August 8, 1983, by his own Minister of Defense, General Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores. Mejía Victores became de facto president and justified the coup by characterizing Montt’s regime as corrupt and its officials as abusing their positions of power within the government. Montt remained in politics, founding the Guatemalan Republican Front party in 1989. He was elected President of Congress in 1995 and 2000. By the time Mejia Victores assumed power, the counterinsurgency under Lucas Garcia and Montt had largely succeeded in its objective of detaching the insurgency from its civilian support base. Additionally, G2 had infiltrated most political institutions, eradicating opponents in the government through terror and selective assassinations. The counterinsurgency program had militarized Guatemalan society, creating a fearful atmosphere that suppressed most public agitation and insurgency. The military had consolidated its power in virtually all sectors of society.

Due to international pressure as well as pressure from other Latin American nations, Mejía Victores allowed a gradual return to democracy in Guatemala. On July 1, 1984, an election was held for representatives to a Constituent Assembly to draft a democratic constitution. On May 30, 1985, the Constituent Assembly finished drafting a new constitution, which took effect immediately. General elections were schedule  and civilian candidate Vinicio Cerezo was elected as president. The gradual revival of democracy did not end the disappearances and death squad killings, however, as extrajudicial state violence had become an integral part of the political culture.

The Democratic Era

Cerezo Administration

Vinicio Cerezo, a civilian politician and the presidential candidate of the Guatemalan Christian Democracy, won the first election held under the new constitution with almost 70% of the vote. Upon its inauguration in January 1986, President Cerezo’s civilian government announced that its top priorities would be to end the political violence and establish rule of law. Reforms included new laws of habeas corpus and amparo (court-ordered protection), the creation of a legislative human rights committee, and the establishment in 1987 of the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman. The Supreme Court also embarked on a series of reforms to fight corruption and improve legal system efficiency.

With Cerezo’s election, the military moved away from governing and returned to the more traditional role of providing internal security, specifically by fighting armed insurgents. The first two years of Cerezo’s administration were characterized by a stable economy and a marked decrease in political violence. Dissatisfied military personnel made coup attempts in May 1988 and May 1989, but military leadership supported the constitutional order. The government was heavily criticized for its unwillingness to investigate or prosecute cases of human rights violations, however.

Presidential and congressional elections were held on November 11, 1990. After the second-round ballot, Jorge Antonio Serrano Elías was inaugurated on January 14, 1991, completing the first transition from one democratically elected civilian government to another. Because his Movement of Solidarity Action (MAS) Party gained only 18 of 116 seats in Congress, Serrano entered into a tenuous alliance with the Christian Democrats and the National Union of the Center (UCN).

Serrano Administration

The Serrano administration’s record was mixed. It had some success in consolidating civilian control over the army, replacing a number of senior officers and persuading the military to participate in peace talks with the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity, or URNG, an umbrella organization representing leftist beliefs among the Guatemalan people, particularly the poor. He took the politically unpopular step of recognizing the sovereignty of Belize, which until then was officially though fruitlessly claimed by Guatemala. The Serrano government reversed the economic slump it inherited, reducing inflation and creating real growth. Then on May 25, 1993, Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court and attempted to restrict civil freedoms, allegedly in order to fight corruption. The auto-coup failed due to the unified efforts of most elements of Guatemalan society to protest Serrano’s actions, international pressure, and the army’s enforcement of the decisions of the Court of Constitutionality, which ruled against the attempted takeover.

Subsequently, Serrano fled the country and pursuant to the provisions of the 1985 constitution, the Guatemalan Congress elected the Human Rights Ombudsman, Alfonso Guillermo de León Marroquín, to complete Serrano’s presidential term as of June 5, 1993. De Leon was not a member of any political party and lacked a political base. Nonetheless, he enjoyed strong popular support. During his time in office, he launched an ambitious anti-corruption campaign within Congress and the Supreme Court, demanding the resignations of all members of the two bodies.

Renewed Peace Process (1994 to 1996)

Under de Leon, the peace process, now brokered by the United Nations, took on new life. The government and the URNG signed agreements on human rights (March 1994), resettlement of displaced persons (June 1994), historical clarification (June 1994), and indigenous rights (March 1995). They also made significant progress on a socioeconomic and agrarian agreement.

National elections for president, Congress, and municipal offices were held in November 1995. With almost 20 parties competing in the first round, the presidential election came down to a January 7, 1996, run-off in which National Advancement Party (PAN) candidate Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen defeated Alfonso Portillo Cabrera of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) by just over two percent of the vote. Arzú won because of his strength in Guatemala City, where he previously served as mayor, and in the surrounding urban area. Portillo won all of the rural departments except Petén. Under the Arzú administration, peace negotiations were concluded, and the government and URNG, which became a legal party, signed peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict in December 1996. The General Secretary of the URNG, Comandante Rolando Morán, and President Álvaro Arzú jointly received the UNESCO Peace Prize for their efforts to end the civil war and attain the peace agreement. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1094 on January 20, 1997, deploying military observers to Guatemala to monitor the implementation of the peace agreements.

Legal Charges of Crimes Against Humanity

In total, an estimated 200,000 civilians were killed or “disappeared” during the conflict, most at the hands of the military, police, and intelligence services. Victims of the repression included indigenous activists, suspected government opponents, returning refugees, critical academics, students, left-leaning politicians, trade unionists, religious workers, journalists, and street children. The “Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico” has estimated that 93% of the violence committed during the conflict was carried out by government forces and 3% by guerrillas. In 2009, Guatemalan courts sentenced the first person to be convicted of the crime of ordering forced disappearances, Felipe Cusanero. This was followed by the 2013 trial of former president Montt for the killing and disappearances of more than 1,700 indigenous Ixil Maya during his 1982-83 rule. The accusations of genocide derived from the “Memoria del Silencio” report written by the UN-appointed Commission for Historical Clarification, which held that genocide could have occurred in Quiché between 1981 and 1983.

The first former head of state to be tried for genocide by his own country’s judicial system, Montt was found guilty the day following the conclusion of his trial and sentenced to 80 years in prison. A few days later, however, the sentence was reversed and the trial was rescheduled due to alleged judicial anomalies. The trial began again in 2015. The court decided, due to his alleged senility, that a closed door trial would resume in January 2016, and that if Montt were found guilty, a jail sentence would be precluded given his health condition.

image

Ex-General Efrain Rios Montt testifying during his trial on March 19, 2013: Montt declared himself innocent: “I am innocent. I never had the intention of destroying any national ethnic group. My role as head of State was specifically to bring the nation back on track, after it had gone astray.”

From the Somozas to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua

In the 20th century, Nicaragua transitioned from an oligarchic dictatorship to the revolutionary government of a democratic socialist political party.

Learning Objectives

Outline events in Nicaragua moving from the Somozas to the Sandinistas

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The longest dictatorship in Nicaragua’s history was the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza family, who ruled for 43 years during the 20th century.
  • The Somoza family was among a few families or groups of influential firms that reaped most of the benefits of the country’s growth from the 1950s to the 1970s.
  • In 1961, Carlos Fonseca and two others founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
  • On December 27, 1974, a group of nine FSLN guerrillas invaded a party at the home of a former Minister of Agriculture, killing him and three guards and taking several leading government officials and prominent businessmen hostage. Anastasio Somoza Debayle, in his memoirs, refers to this action as the beginning of a sharp escalation of Sandinista attacks and government reprisals.
  • The country tipped into full-scale civil war with the 1978 murder of Pedro Chamorro, a Nicaraguan journalist and publisher who opposed violence against theregime.
  • In May 1979, another general strike was called and the FSLN launched a major push to take control of the country. As Nicaragua’s government collapsed and the National Guard commanders escaped with Somoza, the rebels advanced on the capital victoriously.
  • On July 19, 1979, a new government was proclaimed under a provisional junta headed by 33-year-old Daniel Ortega. Then, the Sandinistas were victorious in the national election of November 4, 1984, gathering 67% of the vote.
  • American support for the Somoza family soured diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, and the FSLN government was committed to a Marxist ideology, with many leading Sandinista individuals continuing long-standing relationships with the Soviet Union and Cuba. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, relations between the US and the Sandinista regime became an active front in the Cold War.
  • The first challenge to the Sandanistas’ powerful new army came from the Contras, groups of Somoza’s National Guard that had fled to Honduras and were organized, trained, and funded by CIA elements
  • Mutual exhaustion, Sandinista fears of Contra unity and military success, and mediation by other regional governments led to a ceasefire between the Sandinistas and the Contras on March 23, 1988. Subsequent agreements were designed to reintegrate the Contras and their supporters into Nicaraguan society.

Key Terms

  • Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN): Now a democratic socialist political party, but previously a Nicaraguan resistance organization opposed to the hereditary Somoza dictatorship.
  • embargo: An embargo (derived from the Spanish word embargo) is the partial or complete prohibition of commerce and trade with a particular country or group of countries. Embargoes are considered a strong diplomatic measure to elicit a specific result from the country on which it is imposed. Embargoes are similar to economic sanctions and are generally considered legal barriers to trade as opposed to blockades, which are acts of war.

Somoza Dynasty (1927-1979)

Over the course of its history, Nicaragua has experienced several military dictatorships; the longest was the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza family, who ruled for 43 years during the 20th century. The Somoza family came to power as part of a U.S.-engineered pact in 1927 that stipulated the formation of the Guardia Nacional (National Guard) to replace the marines who had long reigned in Nicaragua. Anastasio Somoza slowly eliminated officers in the National Guard who might have stood in his way, then deposed President Juan Bautista Sacasa to become Nicaragua’s new president on January 1, 1937, in a rigged election. When Anastasio was shot and mortally wounded by Liberal Nicaraguan poet Rigoberto Lopez Perez on September 21, 1956, his eldest son, Luis Somoza Debayle, was appointed president by Congress and officially took charge of the country. He is remembered as moderate, but was only in power for a few years before dying of a heart attack. His successor as president was Rene Schick Gutierrez, widely considered a puppet of the Somoza family.

image

Somoza and Trujillo (1952): Dictator-General Anastasio Somoza (left) with Dominican President Rafael Trujillo in 1952.

The Somoza family was among a few families or groups of influential firms that reaped most of the benefits of the country’s growth from the 1950s to the 1970s. When Anastasio Somoza Debayle was deposed by the Sandinistas in 1979, the family’s worth was estimated between U.S. $500 million and $1.5 billion. In 1972 when an earthquake destroyed nearly 90% of Managua, Anastasio Somoza Debayle siphoned off relief money instead of helping to rebuild the city. Even the economic elite were reluctant to support Somoza following his actions as he had acquired monopolies in industries that were key to rebuilding the nation.

Nicaraguan Revolution (1960s-1990)

In 1961, Carlos Fonseca turned back to the historical figure of Augusto Cesar Sandino, the charismatic leader of Nicaragua’s nationalist rebellion against the U.S. occupation of the country, and along with two others, founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The December 1972 Managua earthquake was a major turning point in the revival of the Sandinistas, stoking violent opposition to the government during a time of heightened international attention. The Sandinistas even received some support from Cuba and the Soviet Union during this period.

On December 27, 1974, a group of nine FSLN guerrillas invaded a party at the home of a former Minister of Agriculture, killing him and three guards in the process of taking several leading government officials and prominent businessmen hostage. In return for the hostages, they succeeded in getting the government to pay U.S. $2 million ransom, the broadcast of an FSLN declaration on the radio and in the opposition newspaper La Prensa, the release of 14 FSLN members from jail, and flights for the raiders and the released FSLN members to Cuba. The incident humiliated the government and greatly enhanced the prestige of the FSLN. Anastasio Somoza Debayle, in his memoirs, refers to this action as the beginning of a sharp escalation in terms of Sandinista attacks and government reprisals. Martial law was declared in 1975, and the National Guard began to raze villages in the jungle suspected of supporting the rebels. Human rights groups condemned the actions, but U.S. President Gerald Ford refused to break the alliance with Somoza.

The country tipped into full-scale civil war with the 1978 murder of Pedro Chamorro, a Nicaraguan journalist and publisher who opposed violence against the regime. Fifty thousand people turned out for his funeral. Many assumed that Somoza ordered his assassination because there was evidence implicating Somoza’s son and other members of the National Guard. A nationwide strike commenced in protest, demanding an end to the dictatorship. At the same time, the Sandinistas stepped up their rate of guerrilla activity. Several towns, assisted by Sandinista guerrillas, expelled their National Guard units. Somoza responded with increasing violence and repression. When León became the first city in Nicaragua to fall to the Sandinistas, he responded with aerial bombardment.

The U.S. media grew increasingly unfavorable in its reporting on the situation in Nicaragua. Realizing that the Somoza dictatorship was unsustainable, the Carter administration attempted to force him to leave Nicaragua. Somoza refused and sought to maintain his power through the National Guard. At that point, the U.S. ambassador sent a cable to the White House saying it would be “ill-advised” to call off the bombing, because such an action would help the Sandinistas gain power. When ABC reporter Bill Stewart was executed by the National Guard and graphic film of the killing was broadcast on TV, the American public became more hostile to Somoza. In the end, President Carter refused Somoza further military aid, believing that the repressive nature of the government led to popular support for the Sandinista uprising.

Beginning of the Sandinista Period

In May 1979, another general strike was called, and the FSLN launched a major push to take control of the country. By mid-July, they had Somoza and the National Guard isolated in Managua. As Nicaragua’s government collapsed and the National Guard commanders escaped with Somoza, the rebels advanced on the capital victoriously. On July 19, 1979, a new government was proclaimed under a provisional junta headed by 33-year-old Daniel Ortega. The FSLN took over a nation plagued by malnutrition, disease, and pesticide contamination. Lake Managua was considered dead because of decades of pesticide runoff, toxic chemical pollution from lakeside factories, and untreated sewage. Soil erosion and dust storms were also a problem in Nicaragua due to deforestation. To tackle these crises, the FSLN created the Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Sandinistas were victorious in the national election of November 4, 1984, gathering 67% of the vote. The election was certified “free and fair” by the majority of international observers, although the Nicaraguan political opposition and the Reagan administration claimed political restrictions were placed on the opposition by the government. The primary opposition candidate was the U.S.-backed Arturo Cruz, who succumbed to pressure from the United States government not to take part in the 1984 elections. Other opposition parties such as the Conservative Democratic Party and the Independent Liberal Party were free to denounce the Sandinista government and participate in the elections. Later, historians such as Christopher Andrews did find evidence that the FSLN was actively suppressing right-wing opposition parties while leaving moderate parties alone.

Communist Leanings and U.S. Contras

American support for the Somoza family soured diplomatic relations with Nicaragua. The FSLN government was committed to a Marxist ideology, with many leading Sandinista individuals continuing long-standing relationships with the Soviet Union and Cuba. U.S. President Carter initially hoped that continued American aid to the new government would keep the Sandinistas from forming a Marxist-Leninist government aligned with the Soviet bloc, but the Carter administration allotted the Sandinistas minimal funding, and the Sandinistas resolutely turned away from the United States, investing Cuban and East European assistance into a new army of 75,000. The buildup included T-55 heavy tanks, heavy artillery, and HIND attack helicopters, an unprecedented military buildup that made the Sandinista Army more powerful than all of its neighbors combined.

The first challenge to the powerful new army came from the Contras, groups of Somoza’s National Guard that had fled to Honduras and were organized, trained, and funded by CIA elements involved in cocaine trafficking in Central America. The Contra chain of command included some ex-National Guardsmen, including Contra founder and commander Enrique Bermúdez. One prominent Contra commander, however, was ex-Sandinista hero Edén Pastora, aka “Commadante Zero”, who rejected the Leninist orientation of his fellow commandantes. The Contras operated out of camps in neighboring Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. They engaged in a systematic campaign of terror among the rural Nicaraguan population er to disrupt the social reform projects of the Sandinistas. The Contra campaign and supporting Reagan administration came under criticism for the brutality and numerous human rights violations related to these operations, including the destruction of health centers, schools, and cooperatives at the hands of the rebels.

With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, relations between the United States and the Sandinista regime became an active front in the Cold War. The Reagan administration insisted that the Sandinistas posed a Communist threat, reacting particularly to the support provided to them by Cuban president Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas’ close military relations with the Soviets and Cubans. Opposition to the Sandanistas also furthered the Reagan administration’s desire to protect U.S. interests in the region, which were threatened by the policies of the Sandinista government. The U.S. quickly suspended aid to Nicaragua and expanded the supply of arms and training to the Contra rebels in neighboring Honduras, as well as allied groups based in Costa Rica. American pressure against the government escalated throughout 1983 and 1984. The Contras began a campaign of economic sabotage and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua’s Port of Corinto, an action condemned by the International Court of Justice as illegal. The U.S. refused to pay restitution and claimed that the ICJ was not competent to judge the case. The UN General Assembly also passed a resolution in order to pressure the U.S. to pay the fine.

On May 1, 1985, Reagan issued an executive order that imposed a full economic embargo on Nicaragua, which remained in force until March 1990. However, in 1982, legislation was enacted by the U.S. Congress to prohibit further direct aid to the Contras. Reagan’s officials attempted to illegally supply them out of the proceeds of arms sales to Iran and third-party donations, triggering the Iran-Contra Affair of 1986–87. Mutual exhaustion, Sandinista fears of Contra unity and military success, and mediation by othe  regional governments led to the Sapoa ceasefire between the Sandinistas and the Contras on March 23, 1988. Subsequent agreements were designed to reintegrate the Contras and their supporters into Nicaraguan society in preparation for general elections.

Colombia and the FARC

FARC’s guerrilla movement against the Colombian government, an active conflict since 1964, has been fraught with violence, human rights abuses, and numerous attempts to broker a lasting peace.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the history of conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC) is a guerrilla movement involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict since 1964. It was formed by Manuel Marulanda Vélez in the aftermath of the Lleras government’s unsuccessful attacks on communist communities.
  • Initially, FARC rejected any involvement in the emerging phenomenon of drug growing and trafficking, but during the 1980s, the group gradually came to accept it as a burgeoning business.
  • La Uribe Agreement called for a ceasefire between the government and FARC, which lasted from 1984 until 1987. In 1985, members of FARC-EP, along with a large number of other leftist and communist groups, formed a political party known as the Union Patriótica.
  • Towards the end of 1990, the army attacked a compound known as Casa Verde, which houses the National Secretariat of the FARC-EP, justifying the attack by FARC-EP’s lack of commitment to the peace process.
  • On June 3, 1991, dialogue resumed between the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Coordinating Board and the government. However, armed attacks by both sides continued. The negotiations were broken off in 1993 when no agreement could be reached.
  • Another round of negotiations began on November 7, 1998, under President Andres Pastrana, who granted FARC-EP a 42,000-square-kilometer safe haven as a confidence-building measure. Unfortunately, the peace talks ended on February 21, 2002, due to a series of high-profile guerrilla actions.
  • For most of the period between 2002 and 2005, FARC-EP was believed to be in strategic withdrawal due to the increasing military and police actions of President Alvaro Uribe.
  • Military offensives carried out under former President Uribe and President Santos have significantly reduced the number of FARC combatants and reduce FARC territorial control.
  • The Colombian government under President Santos and
    FARC signed a peace deal on November 24, 2016, and Congress approved it on November 30, 2016.

Key Terms

  • guerrilla: A participant in an irregular form of warfare in which small groups engage in military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility to fight a larger and less mobile traditional military.
  • ceasefire: A temporary stoppage of war in which each side agrees with the other to suspend aggressive actions.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (FARC) is a guerrilla movement involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict since 1964. It employs a variety of military tactics in addition to more unconventional methods, including terrorism. The FARC-EP, formed during the Cold War as a Marxist-Leninist peasant force, promotes a political line of agrarianism and anti-imperialism. The operations of the FARC-EP were funded by kidnap and ransom, illegal mining, extortion or taxation of various forms of economic activity, and the taxation, production, and distribution of illegal drugs. The United Nations has estimated that 12% of all killings of civilians in the Colombian conflict have been committed by FARC and ELN guerrillas, with 80% committed by right-wing paramilitaries, and the remaining eight percent committed by security forces.

History of the Conflict

Communists were active throughout rural and urban Colombia immediately following World War I. The Colombian Communist Party (PCC) began establishing “peasant leagues” in rural areas and “popular fronts” in urban areas, calling for improved living and working conditions, education, and rights for the working class. However, many of the PCC’s attempts at organizing peasants were met with violent repression by the Colombian government and the landowning class. These groups began networking together to present a defensive front against the state-supported violence of large landholders. Members organized strikes, protests, and land seizures, and organized communist-controlled “self-defense communities” in southern Colombia that were able to resist state military forces while providing for the subsistence needs of the populace.

In 1961, a guerrilla leader and long-time PCC organizer named Manuel Marulanda Vélez declared an independent “Republic of Marquetalia.” The Lleras government attempted unsuccessfully to drive out the guerrillas, due to fear that a revolution similar to that of Cuba’s may develop. Several army outposts were set up in the area and the Colombian government began routinely attacking communist groups in an attempt to reassimilate territories under the influence of communists. In 1964, Manuel Marulanda Vélez and other PCC members formed FARC. Sixteen thousand Colombian troops attacked the community, which only had 48 armed fighters. Marulanda and 47 others fought against government forces at Marquetalia and then escaped into the mountains along with other fighters. These 48 men formed the core of FARC, which later grew in size to hundreds of fighters.

Initially, FARC rejected any involvement in the emerging phenomenon of drug growing and trafficking, but during the 1980s, the group gradually came to accept it as it became a burgeoning business. Taxes on drug producers and traffickers were introduced as a source of funding and increased income from the “coca boom” allowed them to expand into an irregular army able to stage large-scale attacks on Colombian troops. This in part led to the Seventh Guerrilla Conference held by FARC in 1982, which called for a major shift in FARC’s strategy. FARC had historically been doing most of its fighting in rural areas and was limited to small-scale confrontations with Colombian military forces. FARC began sending fighters to Vietnam and the Soviet Union for advanced military training. They also planned to move closer to middle-sized cities, as opposed to only remote rural areas, and closer to areas rich in natural resources to create a strong economic infrastructure. It was also at this conference that FARC added the initials “EP”, for “Ejército del Pueblo” or “People’s Army”, to the organization’s name.

Uribe Agreement and the Union Patriótica

Also in the early 1980s, President Belisario Betancur began discussing the possibility of peace talks with the guerrillas. This led to the 1984 La Uribe Agreement, which called for a ceasefire that lasted from 1984 until 1987. In 1985, members of the FARC-EP, along with a large number of other leftist and communist groups, formed a political party known as the Union Patriótica (“Patriotic Union”, UP). The UP sought constitutional reform, more democratic local elections, political decentralization, and the end of the two-party system dominated by Liberal and Conservative parties. They also pursued socioeconomic reforms such land redistribution, greater health and education spending, the nationalization of foreign businesses, Colombian banks, transportation, and greater public access to mass media.

While many members of the UP were involved with the FARC-EP, the large majority of them were not and came from a wide variety of backgrounds such as labor unions and socialist parties. In the cities, the FARC-EP began integrating itself with the UP and forming Juntas Patrióticas (or “solidarity cells”) – small groups of people associated with labor unions, student activist groups, and peasant leagues, who traveled into the barrios discussing social problems, building support for the UP, and determining the sociopolitical stance of the urban peasantry. The UP performed better in elections than any leftist party in Colombia’s history. In 1986, UP candidates won 350 local council seats, 23 deputy positions in departmental assemblies, nine seats in the House, and six seats in the Senate. The 1986 Presidential candidate, Jaime Pardo Leal, won 4.6% of the national vote.

During the ceasefire, the Colombian government continued its negotiations with the FARC-EP and other armed groups, some of which were successful. Some groups that demobilized during this period include the EPL, the ERP, the Quintin Lame Armed Movement, and the M-19. Towards the end of 1990, however, the army, with no advance warning and while negotiations were still ongoing, attacked a compound known as Casa Verde, which houses the National Secretariat of the FARC-EP. The Colombian government argued that the attack was caused by the FARC-EP’s lack of commitment to the peace process.

Peace Negotiations

On June 3, 1991, dialogue resumed between the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Coordinating Board and the government. The conflict did not halt, however, and armed attacks by both sides continued. The renewed negotiations were broken off in 1993 when no agreement could be reached. A letter written by a group of Colombian intellectuals, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to the Coordinating Board was published denouncing the approach taken by the FARC-EP and the dire consequences it was having on the country. The Coordinating Board disappeared not long afterwards and the guerrilla groups continued their activities independently.

image

FARC guerrillas: FARC guerrillas marching in formation during the Caguan peace talks (1998–2002).

Renewed negotiations began on November 7, 1998, under President Andres Pastrana, who granted FARC-EP a 42,000-square-kilometer (16,200-square-mile) safe haven as a confidence-building measure. Unfortunately, the peace talks ended on February 21, 2002, due to a series of high-profile guerrilla actions, including the hijacking of an aircraft, sieges on a number of small towns and cities, several political kidnappings, and the arrest of the Irish Colombia Three, a group of IRA members who allegedly were training FARC-EP militants to make bombs. Pastrana ordered the armed forces to start retaking the FARC-EP controlled zone.

The Uribe and Santos Administrations

For most of the period between 2002 and 2005, the FARC-EP was believed to be in strategic withdrawal due to the increasing military and police actions of President Alvaro Uribe, which led to the capture or desertion of many fighters and medium-level commanders. Uribe ran for office on an anti-FARC-EP platform and was determined to defeat the guerrillas in a bid to restore confidence in the country. Uribe’s own father was killed by FARC-EP in an attempted kidnapping in 1983. Nonetheless, FARC interventions and violence continued throughout Uribe’s administration and well into that of his successor, Juan Manuel Santos.

Photograph of Álvaro Uribe

Álvaro Uribe

President Álvaro Uribe intensified military operations against the FARC-EP, seeking to defeat them.

Military offensives carried out under former President Uribe and President Santos have significantly reduced the number of FARC combatants and FARC territorial control, pushing guerrillas to mor  remote and sparsely populated regions, often close to territorial or internal borders. On June 23, 2016, a ceasefire accord was signed between the FARC-EP and Colombian government. Under the accord, the Colombian government agreed to support massive investment for rural development and facilitate the FARC’s reincarnation as a political party. FARC promised to help to eradicate illegal drug crops, remove landmines in areas of conflict, and offer reparations to victims. FARC leaders can avoid prosecution by acts of reparation to victims and other community work. However, during a referendum held October 2, 2016, Colombians voted to reject the peace deal with FARC by 50.2% to 49.8%.

The government met with victims and peace opponents after the referendum was rejected, receiving over 500 proposed changes, and continued to negotiate with FARC. A revised agreement was announced on November 12, 2016, which would require parliamentary approval rather than a nationwide referendum. Among the reported 60 new or modified terms was a provision for FARC assets t  be distributed for victim compensation. FARC members would be able to establish a political party and be granted full immunity for full confession and cooperation, although drug trafficking would be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Peace terms would be enforced by a Special Justice for the Peace, who would report to the Constitutional Court and not to an international body. Additionally, both Parliament and the Special Justice would have the ability to modify terms of the agreement as seen necessary.

The Colombian government and FARC signed the revised peace deal on November 24, 2016, and Congress approved it on November 30, 2016.