The Social Consequences of "Development" Aid in Guatemala

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Section 701 of the International Financial Institutions Act requires that the U.S. Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) oppose any aid for a country whose government is a gross and consistent violator of internationally recognized human rights, except when such aid is designed to meet basic human needs. Last August, the Subcommittee on International Development Institutions and Finance of the House Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs held its second hearing on an $18 million loan request from the Guatemalan government to the IDB for a $30 million rural telecommunications project. Some critics felt the loan had security rather than development objectives.

In opening these hearings, Chairman Jerry M. Patterson (D-Cal.) described how his subcommittee had recommended against U.S. Treasury Department support for this loan request in December 1981, because the government of General Romeo Lucas García had an undisputed record of human rights violations. Chairman Patterson noted the confusion encountered in Congress when trying to assess the current Guatemalan situation:

I have followed the situation in Guatemala and have heard Gen. Ríos Montt compared to both Jesus Christ and Pol Pot. The purpose of today's hearing is to try to pin down what is really occurring in Guatemala relevant to our obligations under section 701. Specifically, the subcommittee needs to learn the extent to which torture, holding prisoners without charge and extra-legal executions by the government continue or do not continue to take place in Guatemala and the extent to which the government does or does not locate, try, and punish those who committed such abuses under the previous regime.

Unfortunately, the Patterson subcommittee hearings of last August failed to provide a basis for informed judgment about whether the U.S. Executive Director of the IDB should or should not oppose loan requests from the Guatemalan government. While State Department officials told the subcommittee that there was a qualitative change since the Lucas García regime and that General Ríos Montt was truly interested in protecting the human rights of Guatemalan citizens, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations testified that Guatemalan Army massacres of rural Indian communities had increased since General Ríos Montt came to power. For a non-partisan observer, it would be difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the Ríos Montt government from the statements made at the August subcommittee hearings. Yet, as Chairman Patterson noted in his closing remarks, the rural telecommunications project being considered by the IDB reflects a "small loan situation" in which some "very big principles" are involved.

The $18 million rural telecommunications request is one of 6 Guatemalan loans totalling over $170 million now being considered by the IDB and World Bank. Congress has also authorized $10 million for Guatemala under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, and the Reagan administration is seeking $15 million in economic and development assistance, $3.4 million for helicopter spare parts, and $250,000 for military training in the 1983 fiscal year budget. Obviously, there are fundamental questions about how this economic and military assistance will be used and what effects it will have on the human rights, social welfare, and prospects for democracy of the Guatemalan population.

It is ill advised for Congress to assess the Guatemalan human rights situation by comparing the policies and practices of the Ríos Montt government with the Lucas García regime. Such a comparison provides little insight into the broader institutional continuities in Guatemalan society and politics. There is little doubt that Guatemala is in a state of profound social crisis. This crisis, however, has deep historical roots, and the provision of larger inputs of economic and military aid will have dire social consequences. Previous U.S. assistance has exacerbated rather than resolved the Guatemalan crisis.

From the perspective of U.S. policy makers, the origins of the current crisis can be traced to an abortive uprising of young army officers in November 1960, and the rise of a small rural Guerrilla movement, led by some of these officers, in 1962.

In the aftermath of these events, the military assumed a greater institutional role in the political and economic development of Guatemala. Three of the most important factors in this process were the establishment of local "military commissioners" as a national spy network; the introduction of a civic-action program in the countryside; and the carrying out of a counterinsurgency program in the eastern part of the country, where nearly 10,000 peasants are believed to have been killed. The U.S. played a major role in these programs, providing the Guatemalan government with over $20 million in military assistance between 1960 and 1970, promoting the notion of civic-action among Guatemalan Army officers, providing strategic support to the counter-insurgency campaign, and integrating the Guatemalan Army into a regional military organization called the Central American Defense Council (CONDECA).

During the 1970s, the Guatemalan Army also took a greater interest in non-military activities, including the opening up of the resource-rich northern part of the country and the promotion of national programs of social and economic development. In the northern lowlands, the military provided liberal land concessions to transnational mineral and petroleum companies. The military also created new state agencies, such as an army development bank, and, every four years, it formulated optimistic national development plans.

Throughout this period, the U.S. government and multilateral lending institutions provided Guatemala with large amounts of non-military, development aid. Between 1962 and 1979, for example, U.S. economic aid to Guatemala totalled $294.5 million. During this same period, the IDB provided Guatemala with $384.7 million for numerous projects in agriculture and fishing, transportation and communications, electric power development, rural education, urban housing, and public health. As a Group D or extremely poor country with a large rural population, Guatemala qualified for special loan privileges at the IDB and World Bank.

Although the military gracefully accepted this economic largess, it never agreed to the implementation of a comprehensive agrarian reform, nor did it incorporate the rural poor in the process of economic growth. In fact, the true nature of the military's commitment to social and economic development became clear following the tragic earthquake that struck Guatemala in February 1976. In the aftermath of the earthquake, a growing trade union and rural cooperative movement began to call for greater popular participation in the process of national reconstruction and development. Although the General Kjell Laugerud government (1974-1978) paid some attention to the demands of the trade union and rural cooperative movements, it also tried to impose military control on the earthquake reconstruction effort, and it established a counter-insurgency program in El Quiche and the northern part of the country.

In May 1978, General Laugerud sent a Special Forces Unit into the town of Panzos in Alta Verapaz, where it massacred over 100 Kekchí Indian peasants who were protesting the government's failure to provide them with titles to their lands. The first of what was to become a long list of Army massacres of Indian communities thus began in an area where a major peasant resettlement program and a large hydroelectric project were being financed by the US Agency for International Development (US AID), the IDB, and the World Bank.

When General Romeo Lucas García became President in July 1978, he promised that he and his Frente Amplio party would bring a new "social peace" to Guatemala. Just three months after assuming office, however, he let the national police and security forces loose on persons protesting the rise of bus fares in Guatemala City. Following the October 1978 bus-fare demonstrations, the government began a systematic program of terrorizing and suppressing democratic sectors of the Guatemalan population.

Amnesty International estimates that more than 5,000 people were seized without warrant and killed by the government security forces between July 1978 and February 1981. This "government program of political murder," as Amnesty International called it, included the assassination of opposition political party leaders, journalists, professors and students, doctors and lawyers, priests and missionaries, and trade unionists.

In the rural areas, government security forces and their associated "death squads" kidnapped, tortured, and murdered anyone associated with rural development activities. Their victims, according to a recent survey of North American relief, religious, and development workers, also included members of local reconstruction and social betterment committees, leaders of community organizations, officers of cooperatives, credit unions, and artists' groups, Christian Democratic mayors, school teachers, catechists and pastors, rural health-care workers, and even members of local Alcoholics Anonymous groups. The rural cooperative movement, which was financed by US AID, was particularly hard hit by the government's program of political violence. "The newly founded government ministry for co-ops, INACOOP," one informant who was close to the ministry said, "was no more than a front for collecting names of the most active (and dedicated) people in the community - people who would later be eliminated."

As political scientist Lars Schoultz pointed out to the House Subcommittees on Human Rights and International Organizations and Inter-American Affairs in July 1981, U.S. military and economic aid deliveries to the Lucas García government did not cease during the Carter administration, despite public criticism of human rights violations. Between fiscal years 1978 and 1980, the U.S. government provided Guatemala with $8.5 million in commercial arms sales. In fiscal year 1979, the U.S. also provided Guatemala with $24.7 million in economic aid, including $5.3 million in PL 480 funds.

The reaction of U.S. policy makers in multilateral lending institutions was at best ambiguous during the Carter administration. As Schoultz points out, the U.S. only voted against 2 of 7 multilateral development bank loans for Guatemala between October 1979 and May 1980. In August 1980, it was reported that the U.S. had reversed its position entirely on multilateral development assistance to Guatemala. At that time, the U.S. refused to veto a $51 million loan from the IDB that was earmarked for government use in the turbulent Quiché area of northern Guatemala.

In the months prior to the March 1982 coup, it became clear that three factors were wreaking havoc on the Guatemalan military's plan to maintain political hegemony over the country. The first factor was the rapid mobilization of the Indian population into the guerrilla movement, and the unification of the country's four guerrilla armies into a single, national command structure. The second factor was the increasing international isolation of Guatemala because of its human rights record. And the third factor was the recognition that the Guatemalan economy was in its worst crisis since the Great Depression.

Together, these factors indicated that there was a need for change in the upper reaches of the Guatemalan military. When the center and right-wing opposition contested the elections of early March, it also became clear that the Guatemalan military would need to act swiftly in order to avoid a situation such as that faced by Somoza in Nicaragua. At this time, General Efraín Ríos Montt, a born-again Christian who was denied the Guatemalan presidency in 1974, was called upon to lead a new military triumvirate. The goal of the new military junta, however, was less to reform Guatemalan society than it was to insure the continued presence of the military as the primary force in Guatemalan politics.

Events that have occurred since the March 23rd coup support the above interpretation. Soon after the coup, the Guatemalan military circulated a confidential "National Plan for Security and Development" which was reported in the French press and later made available to Amnesty International in London. This plan stated that "The manpower, armaments, and equipment of the Guatemalan Army are not adequate to cover the different fronts presented by armed subversion." Therefore, the plan declared that "changes in the basic structure of the State" would be necessary, including a public campaign of "psychological action at all levels" to win popular support while the junta privately "increased the legal and functional capacity of anti-subversive organisms" and created "at the highest political level, an organism for the direction of anti-subversive functions."

The April 1982 National Security and Development Plan also called upon the military to define economic and geographic areas where the probabilities of subversion are greatest and to recommend economic measures to reduce its effects. Socially, the plan noted that the structuring of nationalism must be achieved "by promoting and strengthening it in all state organizations [including the national literacy campaign]," and by presenting it as a "doctrine opposed to international communism." Finally, in the military field, the plan called for the improvement and modernization of the Central Intelligence Organization so that "the most information on the guerrilla groups" could be obtained.

In the months following the coup, as the pace of army massacres of Indians increased, the military began to implement this plan. Not only did the military consolidate its power by disbanding the original three-person junta, but it also instituted a state of siege for the first time since 1970. Under the state of siege, the military is empowered to arrest and hold suspects without charge, to take over private homes and vehicles, to break into homes and offices at night, to force all former soldiers under the age of thirty to register at military bases, and to sentence suspected guerrillas to death before military courts.

In July, the Ríos Montt government announced a special "beans and rifles" policy which joined civic-action and counter-insurgency programs to defeat the guerrilla movement and win the "hearts and minds" of the Indian population. Formally called the "Plan of Action and Assistance to the Altiplano" (PAAC), the government's Indian program includes three stages: a survival stage where food, housing, and work is provided to Indian refugees in "model villages" or "strategic hamlets;" a pre-development stage where the displaced people are relocated to their home villages and security measures are coordinated "in order to establish the bases for development;" and, a development stage where supporting state institutions carry out specific program tasks.

According to reports from Guatemala, the civic-action side of the "beans and rifles" program is being directed by a general who heads the National Reconstruction Committee (CRN). All public and private development agencies in the highlands, including those involved in food and refugee relief efforts, are now coordinated by the CRN, and they are synchronized with the activities of commanders at local military bases.

It is interesting to note that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Stephen W. Bosworth told the House Subcommittee investigating the IDB rural telecommunications loan project in August that he thought the most fundamental difference between the Ríos Montt government and its predecessors was this civic-action program. In his prepared testimony, he wrote,

In direct contrast to the previous government's exclusive emphasis on military action against the guerrillas, this government is committed to rural development. Even as overall government expenditures are being reduced, programs to develop the social infrastructure of the highlands are being expanded. Just two weeks ago, the government announced a $5 million program to provide minimum shelter in support of a food for work program to people displaced through political strife.

When questioned by Chairman Patterson about whether the pending IDB rural telecommunications project met the "basic needs" criteria of Section 701, or whether it fell into the category of "security" measures, Mr. Bosworth was even more candid in his remarks. "I think," he said in response to the Chairman's question, there has been a very substantial change in the perception of Guatemala to the Indians over the past few years. For a long time, the rest of the society tended to regard the Indians as being basically apolitical and apart from the normal day-to-day Guatemalan political and economic life. For a variety of reasons, including population pressures, food shortages, pressures on land, et cetera, it was apparent that the Indians were no longer apolitical and that they were susceptible to the appeals of the guerrillas.

Mr. Bosworth then went on to note: One of the most disturbing indexes of the past couple of years as one has followed the development of the Guatemalan insurgency has been the increased inroads made by the insurgency among the Indian population. Now the previous Government's response to those inroads was basically a military response. This Government, as I am trying to indicate, sees the need for a two-pronged response, not simple reliance on military activity, but also a need to bring essential economic and social services to these Indian populations and to integrate them into the Guatemalan society and Guatemalan economy.

These remarks, and the previous analysis of the role of the Guatemalan military in national politics, provide a basis for assessing the probable uses that the Guatemalan government will be making of rural telecommunications and other development bank loans. Under normal conditions, one can agree with IDB technical advisors that the installation of 7,600 telephones in 168 rural municipalities, in conjunction with other services already being supplied to these populations, would have a great impact on the "conditions of those living in remote regions of the country." One could also agree with IDB technicians that, under normal conditions, "adequate communications facilities in all communities of the Republic" would provide the rural population with "greater access to education and culture; greater assurance and reliability of emergency assistance; and adequate opportunities for capital investment in the productive sectors of the countryside." As the IDB project report also notes, a rural telecommunications project might also "facilitate trade and...generate significant savings in transportation time and costs."

The point, though, is that normal conditions, as assumed in the IDB report, do not exist in Guatemala, and no amount of "cost-benefit" or "sensitivity" analysis on the part of IDB economists can hide this fact. For more than 20 years, U.S. policy makers have recognized that Guatemala is in a state of political crisis. Hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid have not been able to alleviate this crisis. There are no compelling reasons to believe that the Ríos Montt government will succeed in forcing its will upon the people where other military governments have failed to do so in the past. Under these conditions, members of the U.S. Congress would be wise to refuse all military and economic assistance to the Guatemalan government and let the Guatemalan people work out their own destiny.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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