Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Congressional reassertion of its foreign policy powers was evident in its insistence that U.S. policy promote, not undermine, governmental protection of human rights abroad. This is the effect of Section 502 (b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961:
1. In 1973, non-binding "sense of the Congress" language was attached to section 32 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, urging a cutoff of economic and military aid to regimes with large numbers of political detainees.
2. In 1974, section 502-B of the Foreign Assistance Act was amended to state that "Except in extraordinary circumstances, the President shall substantially reduce or terminate security assistance to any government which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violation of internationally recognized human rights."
3. Since 1977, yearly reports by the Department of State on human rights conditions abroad have been required by Congress. These "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" are issued early each year, usually in February or early March.
4. The impact of human rights law was largest in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s:
A. El Salvador: Civil war began in the late 1970s. Military aid was suspended, Spring 1977- Fall 1980. After March 1981, Congress required that the President "certify" that human rights progress was being made by the government of El Salvador. Certification required a formal, written, twice-yearly Presidential Finding. The reasons Congress required this were varied:
1. Congress wanted the killers of 4 US Churchwomen (3 nuns and one Catholic lay worker), who were raped and slain by Salvadoran National Guardsmen in December 1980, to be tried and convicted.
2. Congress also wanted the killers of US land reform advisors in 1981 to be tried and convicted.
3. Congress wanted there to be an improvement in the general protection of human rights of Salvadoran citizens by the government of El Salvador.
4. Congress wanted an elected government to assume power. This occurred in 1984, when civilian Christian Democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte assumed office. Beginning in 1989, four consecutive conservatives of the ARENA party were elected president in free elections: Alberto Cristiani, who served until 1994 and who made peace with the guerrillas; Armando Calderon Sol, 1994-99; Francisco Flores, 1999-2004; and Elias Antonio Saca, who served March 2004 to 2009. In 2009, Mauricio Funes of the FMLN (i.e., political party of the former guerrillas) won election to the presidency, and will serve until 2014. International observers have found these elections to have been free and fair.
5. With these Congressionally-imposed conditions met, US aid to El Salvador was extensive 1984-92. Publicly acknowledged US military aid there amounted to more than $2.5 billion (1980-90). Moreover, fifty-plus active duty US armed forces personnel served as advisors to El Salvador's Armed Forces during the war. In Jan. 1992, a U.N. brokered peace agreement between rebels and the Government was announced, and a final ceasefire took place by December of that year. (The 1980s war and peace processes are discussed extensively elsewhere on this website, especially in the essay on El Salvador).
B. Guatemala (see also the separate Guatemala case here): War began in Nov. 1960, and first peaked in 1966-69. Severe repressive measures begun by the Guatemalan military in the late 1960s substantially were assisted by the U.S. military and CIA, and initially quelled the insurgency. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, repressive tactics continued both in areas experiencing insurgency and in urban areas. These repressive tactics included formation of paramilitary "death squads," assassinations by them of civic leaders (e.g., priests, professors, union officials, student leaders, etc.), kidnappings by State security forces and "death squads" which were called 'disappearances', torture of detainees, and massacres of entire villages suspected of aiding guerrillas by official Army troops. Despite all this, in the late 1970s, widespread support for guerrilla fighters grew in indigenous (or "Indian") areas of the countryside.
1. U.S. Military aid was cut off by Presidential action, 1977-80; Congress refused to consent to a Presidential request (by Carter) to resume military training in 1980.
2. Congress rebuffed all Presidential military aid requests by Reagan, 1981-84. CIA support to Guatemalan security forces continued uninterrupted throughout these Congressional cut-offs of aid.
3. Military training was authorized to be resumed in 1984; most aid to military forces, however, was conditioned on prior return to civilian government, 1984-86. This occurred in 1986, with the inauguration of civilian Christian Democrat Vinicio Cerezo as president (1986-90). Total US aid, 1985-91, amounted to between $550 and $600 million, and it was continued despite two serious attempts by Army factions to overthrow Cerezo, both of which failed.
4. After human rights conditions worsened late in 1990, President Bush again suspended all US military aid to Guatemala due to this and due to several murders of U.S. citizens, and additional cases of U.S. religious workers (e.g., Sister Dianna Ortiz) being tortured in Guatemala.
5. Democratization. In 1993, U.S. disapproval helped to stop an unconstitutional seizure of dictatorial power by elected Pres. Jorge Serrano (1990-93); in this crisis, Guatemalan Army forces supported the Constitution and the U.S. position on its supremacy. Civilians Ramiro de Leon Carpio (1993-96) and Alvaro Arzu (1996-2000) solidified civilian rule, 1993-2000. The final peace agreement in Guatemala took effect in December 1996. In December 1999, conservative Alfonso Portillo defeated Oscar Berger and served as president until 2004; Berger was elected to the office late in 2003, and took office in January 2004, serving until 2008. Alvaro Colom, son of a Guatemala City mayor martyred in 1979, was elected in that year and completed his four year term in January 2012. That month Otto Pérez Molina, a retired former Army officer and Director of National Intelligence, was inaugurated Guatemalan president, having won election in December 2011.
6. A February 1999 U.N. study, conducted as part of the official peace agreement, "Guatemala: Memory of Silence," found 626 separate massacres of whole villages, and 200,000 persons overall to have been killed in "genocide" conducted against the indigenous by the Guatemalan Army, and found that 93 percent of the killing of 42,000 civilians had been done by the Guatemalan Army and its allies.
7. Pres. Clinton on March 10, 1999 formally apologized for the U.S. role in Guatemala.
Gordon L. Bowen, "Guatemalan Death Squads Target Indigenous Indians" in Human Rights Violations, Charles F. Bahmueller, editor (Pasadena CA: Salem Press, 2003): 548-554.
Gordon L. Bowen, "Guatemala," in World Conflicts and Confrontations, Charles F. Bahmueller, editor (Pasadena CA: Salem Press, 1999): 130-139.
Gordon L. Bowen, "Indigenous Indians Become the Target of Guatemalan Death Squads," in Great Events from History II: Human Rights, ed. Frank N. Magill (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1993): 1972-1977.
Gordon L. Bowen, "U.S. Approaches to Guatemalan State Terrorism, 1977-1986," in Terrible Beyond Endurance? The Foreign Policy of State Terrorism, ed. Michael Stohl (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988): 119-163.
Gordon L. Bowen, "No Roadblocks to Death: Guatemala's War Against the Church," Commonweal CXI, no. 12 (June 15, 1984): 361-364.
Gordon L. Bowen, "Guatemala: A New Form of Totalitarianism?" Commonweal CXI, no. 3 (February 10, 1984): 76-78.
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