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Guatemala’s mass graves

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  • ummyakoub
    Amid propaganda campaign over Iraq: Guatemala s mass graves ignored by mass media by Bill Vann July 2, 2003 Last month, the people of Xiquin Sanahi, a small
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 13, 2003
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      Amid propaganda campaign over Iraq:
      Guatemala's mass graves ignored by mass media

      Bill Vann
      July 2, 2003

      Last month, the people of Xiquin Sanahi, a small
      village in the Guatemalan highlands, reburied the
      remains of 75 of their family members and neighbors
      who were massacred two decades ago by the Guatemalan
      army. The skeletal remains had been exhumed a year
      earlier by a team of forensic anthropologists.

      A moving report on the reburial ceremony written by
      T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times
      ("Dignity Recovered at last," June 26, 2003) was all
      the more notable because of its rarity. The mass
      media has virtually ignored what is a gruesome
      ongoing exposure of massive atrocities carried out
      during a protracted US-backed counterinsurgency

      Given the voluminous coverage given to the unearthing
      of similar mass burial sites in Iraq "universally
      proclaimed by government officials and media hacks in
      the US and Britain alike as an ex post facto
      justification for an illegal war of aggression" the
      near-total silence over the harvest of remains in
      Guatemala speaks volumes.

      "Of the 44 bodies whose sex and age could be
      determined, only seven were adult men," Miller wrote.
      "The rest were women and children. The estimated ages
      range from 5 months to 87 years." Most were shot,
      some beaten to death and at least three decapitated.

      The reporter described how, due to a bureaucratic
      error, one set of remains, those of a 15-year-old
      cousin of Juliana Diaz, were brought late to the
      ceremony. There, they were taken from a manila
      envelope and placed in a plain pine box.

      "As the worker was about to shut the lid, Diaz
      stopped her, and pulled a white handkerchief from her
      bag," Miller writes. "She laid it across the bones,
      then closed the lid. Later she explained that she did
      not want her cousin to be cold. `I wanted to feel
      like he was a little bit dressed,' she said."

      These exhumations and reburials are taking place
      across Guatemala. While remains have been exhumed at
      some 250 secret cemeteries, those involved in the
      effort say that there are thousands of such sites
      scattered around the country, enough to keep them
      digging for another 10 years.

      The effort to recover remains has confirmed claims
      long made by Guatemalan human rights advocates--and
      dismissed by governments both there and in
      Washington--as to the scale of the bloodletting. It is
      now generally accepted that more than 200,000
      people--most of them from the country's Mayan Indian
      majority--were slaughtered by a succession of military
      and military-backed regimes representing Guatemala's
      ruling oligarchy.

      In their vast majority, the victims were killed
      simply because they were poor and oppressed and
      therefore suspected of sympathizing with a guerrilla
      movement that advocated a more equitable distribution
      of the country's wealth.

      US backing for this carnage dates back to 1954, when
      the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated a
      military coup to overthrow President Jacobo Arbenz.
      The elected government of Arbenz had run afoul of
      Washington by introducing a limited agrarian reform
      that infringed upon the vast holdings of the
      politically influential United Fruit Company. The
      carnage reached its apogee in the early 1980s, when
      the Guatemalan right forged the closest political
      ties with the Republican administration of Ronald

      In those years, the Guatemalan military unleashed a
      sadistic "scorched earth" campaign modeled in large
      part on lessons that its US advisors had drawn from
      the war in Vietnam. Basing itself upon the murderous
      theory that the only way to combat guerrilla
      resistance was to "empty the sea" in which the
      guerrillas swam, the army set about to bleed and
      break the population. In addition to the hundreds of
      thousands slaughtered, over a million were displaced
      from their homes and countless thousands were
      tortured and raped.

      This is not a matter of a dark but closed chapter in
      Central American history. The CIA and other US
      agencies still refuse to declassify documents
      containing information ranging from the identity of
      individuals responsible for these crimes against
      humanity to the actual location of secret prisons and
      mass graves.

      With an election set for November in Guatemala, the
      candidate of the ruling party is General Efrain Rios
      Montt, the leader of a 1982 military coup that
      brought to power the most ruthless in a long line of
      murderous regimes. His 18-month junta carried out the
      biggest bloodbath in the country's history. While the
      Guatemalan constitution bars coup leaders from
      running for president, the ruling Guatemalan
      Republican Front has packed the country's Supreme
      Court with its own nominees and expects to prevail
      against legal challenges.

      In the runup to the elections, human rights workers,
      journalists and Mayan priests involved in the
      exhumations have been attacked and killed. Forensic
      anthropologists working at the gravesites have been
      subjected to mounting death threats, presumably from
      those implicated in the mass killings.

      It is worthwhile keeping the case of Guatemala in
      mind when considering the Bush administration's
      seizing upon the discovery of mass graves in Iraq as
      the ultimate answer to charges that the US president
      lied to the American people about alleged Iraqi
      "weapons of mass destruction" and launched an illegal
      war based on false pretexts.

      Thus, Bush's national security advisor Condoleezza
      Rice recently admonished the public not to "lose
      sight of the mass graves that are being found there
      that are a testament to what this regime was like."

      Another staunch defender of Bush's war, Republican
      Senator John McCain, told ABC News: "The day I saw
      the mass graves uncovered, it was ample testimony of
      the brutality and repressiveness of this regime. It
      was the day that I believe our liberation of Iraq was
      fully vindicated."

      This argument was summed up most crudely by the New
      York Times' contemptible foreign columnist Thomas
      Friedman, who wrote a column last April titled "The
      meaning of a skull," referring to a picture published
      on the Times front page of a skull unearthed from a
      mass grave in Iraq.

      "As far as I'm concerned, we do not need to find any
      weapons of mass destruction to justify this war,"
      Friedman wrote. "That skull, and the thousands more
      that will be unearthed, are enough for me. Mr. Bush
      doesn't owe the world any explanation for missing
      chemical weapons...Who cares if we now find some
      buried barrels of poison? Do they carry more moral
      weight than those buried skulls? No way."

      The argument is hypocritical and fraudulent. The
      claims by the Bush administration and its apologists
      that the Iraqi graves legitimize US military
      occupation are evidently not shared by the Iraqi
      people. In the predominantly Shi'ite south, where
      many of the graves have been unearthed, it is widely
      understood that those whose remains are being
      recovered were the victims not only of Saddam
      Hussein's regime, but of US policy as well.

      At the close of the first Persian Gulf war in 1991,
      George Bush senior called upon the Iraqi people to
      revolt against Saddam Hussein. When the Shi'ite
      population, backed by the Kurds in the north, did
      just that, the Bush government panicked. It had
      counted on a coup by Hussein's military, which failed
      to materialize.

      Fearing a revolution that could spread throughout the
      Shi'ite population of the gulf region, Washington
      signaled the regime in Baghdad that it would tacitly
      support its suppression of the revolt. As the Wall
      Street Journal--a paper not unsympathetic to either
      Bush administration--reported at the time: "A decision
      had been made to let Saddam suppress the
      rebellion...the quicker the better. Having decided it
      did not want Iraq's revolts to succeed, the
      administration stood fast as the slaughter

      Moreover, the Ba'athist regime was itself brought to
      power in a coup aided by the CIA. Throughout most of
      his career, Saddam Hussein's regime was a trusted
      client of Washington, which supported its
      catastrophic war against Iran as well as the
      continuing suppression of the both the Shi'ites in
      the south and the Kurdish minority in the north.

      So, what is the "meaning of a skull" unearthed in
      Iraq? As the Iraqis know, it is far more complicated
      than the self-serving propaganda peddled by Rice,
      McCain and Friedman.

      And what of the "meaning" or "moral weight" of a
      skull dug from the soil of Guatemala? What does it
      say about the claims that US foreign policy is
      dedicated to the liberation of the oppressed and the
      toppling of tyrants everywhere?

      The answers are suggested by the media's guilty
      silence about Guatemala's mass graves. The horrific
      death toll in that country is ultimately the product
      the US banks', corporations' and government's
      determination to stamp out any challenge to their
      unfettered hegemony over a region that Washington has
      long regarded as its "backyard." The same essential
      impulse--now extended to the Persian Gulf and the
      world as a whole--has driven the US military
      occupation of Iraq.

      The profoundly reactionary attempt to recolonize Iraq
      in order to assure US hegemony over strategically
      vital oil supplies can only be realized through
      barbaric methods of repression, much like those
      employed in Guatemala. Before this criminal project
      is brought to an end, it will fill many new graves,
      both in Iraq and in the US.

      * * * * * * * * * * *
      Forwarded by
      La Voz de Aztlan



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