Guerrilla War in Guatemala 1961-1996

[ 1961 - 1996 ]

Rampant human rights abuses by the Guatemalan army and government, supported by powerful business and landholding interests, caused communist-led guerrillas (extreme leftists) to begin an active political war of terror in 1961. Also, promised social, agrarian, and economic reforms were blocked. In 1967-68, rightist groups were using the same terrorist tactics as the communists to attack the government, which slowly began to implement programs to improve the lives of the poor Indian peasants (Guatemala's population is more than 50 percent pure Indian; most of the remainder is of mixed Spanish and Indian descent, called Ladino). Communist guerrillas fatally shot two US embassy military attaches in Guatemala City, the capital, on January 16, 1968, and they also killed the US ambassador on August 18, 1968, when he resisted a kidnap attempt. By 1970, leftist dissidents, abetted by rightist dissidents, had created widespread fear and turmoil through violence and murder. Leftist terrorists kidnapped and killed the West German ambassador on April 5, 1970, when the government rejected their demands ($700,000 ransom and the release of 25 political prisoners). In mid-1978, General Romeo Lucas Garcia (1924-) became president and reportedly ordered the deaths of some 5,000 persons, including 76 opposing political leaders. His brutal, corrupt regime brought a cut-off of US military aid. He was ousted in 1982 when dissident army officers seized power. In 1983 two military coup d'etats occurred (August and October), and in 1984 a constituent assembly was elected to draft a new constitution. Civilian rule returned to Guatemala in 1986 with the election of President Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo (1942-), followed five years later by President Jorge Serrano Elias (1945-). Serrano's attempt to suspend constitutional rights in 1993 led to his ouster by military, business, and political leaders. Later a temporary cease-fire with guerrillas restored some sense of democracy and led to a peace agreement (December 29, 1996) signed by four top leftist rebel leaders and government representatives. The war had left some 150,000 people dead, most of them Indian civilians, and some 50,000 missing; a difficult rebuilding of the country lay ahead.

Related Conflicts

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