APRIL 1984 - VOLUME 5 - NUMBER 4
Guatemalan Repression, U.S. Shame
This month, two feature articles in Multinational Monitor focus on a country that receives scant attention in the steady stream of press reports coming from Central America: Guatemala.
More industrialized than its neighbors to the south, and with extensive agro-export plantations, Guatemala is the wealthiest country in Central America, hosting over 300 U.S corporations with investments topping $400 million. It also has the best-trained and best-equipped army in the region-an army long noted for its brutality against the Guatemalan people in the drive to defeat leftist guerillas. The primary victims of government repression are Mayan Indians, the largely impoverished, illiterate peasants of the northern highlands who make up more than half of the country's population. Many indigenous Indian communities have been devastated by the Guatemalan army's counterinsurgency drive in the area. Widespread massacres and destruction of villages have left untold dead, and hundreds of thousands homeless and hungry.
The survivors of these campaigns are often resettled in military controlled "model villages," assigned compulsory civilian defense duty, conscripted for work in construction crews, and paid in food rations rather in wages. Guatemalan army leaders readily admit that these techniques-many learned directly from the U.S. military-are based on the U.S. pacification programs used on a massive scale in Vietnam. One Guatemalan army lieutenant recently spoke with pride to a visiting North American of the "Vietnamization" of the rural areas.
The United States bears both a historic and immediate responsibility for this situation. Since 1954, when a CIAorchestrated coup overthrew a reformist government at the urging of United Fruit, a U.S. corporation with the largest landholdings in the country, Guatemala's military dictators have relied on the U.S. for military, economic, and political support. Today, after years of inequitable development, economic aid from the U.S., Israel, multilateral banks, and international relief agencies serves to reinforce army rule. As Americas Watch, a New Yorkbased human rights organization, points out in a recent report, even food aid is "one more weapon in [the army's campaign] to consolidate its control and domination of civilian life."
The Reagan administration has reversed a seven-yearold U.S. policy of denying aid to Guatemala because of its human rights record. In January, the administration approved the sale of $2 million worth of helicopter spare parts to Guatemala's military regime. Reagan is also pushing a $100 million military and economic aid package to Guatemala for 1985, while grooming the country for inclusion in the Caribbean Basin Initiative. The payoff for the administration would be persuading Guatemala's welltrained army to play a more active role in regional military alliances.
While there is still strong Congressional and public opposition to renewing military aid to Guatemala, many U.S. citizens and officials find a renewal of economic aid more acceptable. But if there is a lesson to be learned from Guatemala's history so far, it is that any kind of aid-military or economic-will be employed to "pacify" the majority and strengthen the rule of a repressive government.
Fair trade and labor rights
Recent discussions about international trade and imports from developing countries have focused primarily on "unfair" government practices, such as subsidizing exports and "dumping" low cost articles in American markets. But little is ever said about the violation of labor rights overseas-one of the most important reasons why wages in developing countries are so low.
A bill sponsored by Congressman Don Pease (D-Ohio) and supported by a range of human rights, church, and development groups, attempts to deal with this problem. Proposed as an alternative to a Reagan administration bill renewing the General System of Preferences (GSP)-a set of tariffs that help developing countries gain access to the American market-the bill would deny GSP benefits to a country that violates internationally recognized standards of labor rights.
This initiative is an important one, and will need public support if it is to pass. By linking trade and labor rights, the bill would put pressure on a country like South Korea, which has recently stepped up its exports to the U.S. and is the second largest recipient of GSP benefits.
Since 1980, this military dominated government-one of the Reagan administration's closest allies-has systematically destroyed every independent, democratic union in the country, jailed and tortured union activists, banned strikes, and blacklisted workers whose only crime was to organize for collective bargaining rights. It is no coincidence that corporations like General Motors and Caterpillar have stepped up their investments in South Korea in the last four years, and are now beginning to import Korean-made products into the U.S.
But the Pease bill is no panacea: it would affect less than four percent of U.S. imports. In the long run, Americans interested in fair trade with developing countries should focus their energies on ending U.S. economic and military support for Third World dictatorships that has resulted in starvation wages and cheap imposts. It is these misguided policies that are "unfair" to American workers.