The CIA and the military in Latin America

Wednesday, May 17, 1995 - 10:00

Human rights violators and influential members of the armies of various Latin American countries have earned sizeable sums of money for passing information to the CIA. This is shaping up as a major scandal.

It all began with the claim that Guatemalan Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez ordered the 1990 murder of US citizen Michael Devine, the proprietor of a hotel in Guatemala, and the capture, torture and assassination of guerilla leader Efrain Bamaca in March 1992. The latter, known as Comandante Everardo, was chief of a Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) front and was captured after a battle in the south-west of the country.

The revelation has provoked some commotion in Washington and in Guatemala City. Many people are shocked that the United States, supposed human rights champion, should employ hired assassins to commit abuses. For others, of course, this old practice comes as no surprise.

According to Prensa Latina, the White House is denying that US officials ordered the murder of a fellow citizen and of a Guatemalan guerilla, and President Clinton has called for an investigation of the events.

The Washington Post revealed that the CIA paid Alpirez $44,000 for information on the Guatemalan guerilla movement, even though it was aware that he was implicated in some murders, including Devine's death. Preliminary investigations show that Alpirez's name figured on the agency's payroll.

Relatives of disappeared Guatemalans are convinced of widespread links between the military and the CIA and affirm that the agency's main base was in the Mariscal Zavala Garrison, under the command of General Jose Soto Salam.

Ronald Ochaeta, head of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric of Guatemala, stressed in press statements that when one high-ranking officer is seen to be involved with the CIA, the immediate question is whether there are others. In turn, the US agency's infiltration reveals a weakness in national security and sovereignty, and a threat to the legal apparatus, which has to disprove the accusations or proceed against Alpirez.

The Nation magazine recently published an article revealing that Hector Gramajo, Guatemala's ex-minister of defence and a candidate for the presidency in this year's elections, was also on the CIA payroll, together with three Guatemalan military intelligence chiefs, generals Edgar Godoy Gaytan and Francisco Ortega Manaldo, and Colonel Otto Perez Molina. It further claims that General Roberto Matta Galvez, former army chief of staff and head of the president's protection unit, received payment for his services to the agency.

US publications point out that the CIA continued to supply aid to Guatemala secretly after the United States officially cut off assistance in 1990 because of human rights abuses in that nation. Jack McCavitt, head of the CIA office in Guatemala, was responsible for paying intelligence officers. He also authorised their use of helicopters stationed in US dependencies.

Although the identity of the CIA agents involved remains hidden, during the last few years there are several known cases of high-ranking officers linked to the agency, and their records are quite bloody. For example, there is the case of Colonel Nicolas Carranza of El Salvador, accused in the early 1980s of receiving $90,000 for information. He was responsible for most of the death squads and now lives in golden exile in Tennessee.

In Honduras, the CIA set up the 3-16 battalion, a military unit which acted as a death squad during the 1980s, and there is speculation about the presence on the agency payroll of General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who led the unit.

Haitian governmental authorities confirmed that the CIA handed over large sums to two members of the military regime between 1990 and 1994: General Raoul Cedras and Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, co-leader of the so-called Front for Advance and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), responsible for several crimes during the de facto government period.

Without any doubt, the list is much longer. At the moment, the scandal has just begun and is causing real upset only in Guatemala, where, as the New York Times and the Washington Post insist, CIA assignations with the military are still continuing. Up until this point, President Ramiro de Leon Carpio has roundly denied any such links, although according to IPS, the defence minister, General Mario Enriquez, admitted that occasionally and "out of friendship", there are exchanges of information with foreign Intelligence agencies.

[From Granma International.]

From GLW issue 187