U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
95/04/05 TESTIMONY: A. WATSON ON U.S. POLICY TOWARD GUATEMALA
BUREAU FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS

TESTIMONY BY
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS
ALEXANDER F. WATSON
BEFORE THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE



UNITED STATES POLICY TOWARD GUATEMALA:
THE CASES OF MICHAEL DEVINE AND EFRAIN BAMACA
April 5, 1995

Mr. Chairman:

I welcome this opportunity to appear before you and your colleagues on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss United States policy in Guatemala and the killings of Michael Devine and Efrain Bamaca. You're doing the right thing to conduct these hearings. It is important to get the facts out -- to the Congress, to the public and to the families of the victims.

That is precisely the intent of the President and Secretary of State Christopher. The President has asked the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) to conduct a thorough review of all aspects of the allegations associated with and the policy issues raised by these two cases. The IOB will review the facts surrounding these cases and make appropriate recommendations. As the Secretary stated before the Congress last week, should disciplinary or other such action be indicated, it will be taken. The Administration will provide to the American people as much information about the review as possible. The Secretary has already recommended the fullest disclosure possible.

Mr. Chairman, promotion of human rights abroad is a fundamental principle guiding the Clinton Administration's foreign policy. The responsibility to protect and assist American citizens abroad is a particularly compelling obligation assigned to the men and women of our foreign service. This statement therefore deals in large part with how the Department and our embassy in Guatemala discharged those responsibilities in the two cases at hand. Your staff has indicated, however, that an overview of United States policy in Guatemala -- and how it has evolved over time -- would be helpful. Let me do that before turning to the cases of Michael Devine and Efrain Bamaca.

Overview of U.S. Policy in Guatemala

Guatemala is a deeply troubled country. It is sharply divided along ethnic and social lines. The peasantry live in acute poverty. Decades of authoritarian and often extremely violent politics have inhibited the growth of democratic institutions. Promising political leaders have often been assassinated or driven into exile. The security forces have long violated human rights with impunity. A virulent left-wing insurgency practiced a policy of "take no prisoners" and assassinated U.S. Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968. In recent years electoral politics have begun to function, but these democratic developments remain fragile.

When the Central American crisis erupted in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the late 1970's, our relations with Guatemala were problematic. The United States had provided substantial assistance to Guatemala under the auspices of the Alliance for Progress. Promotion of greater respect for human rights became a particular concern under the Carter Administration. The emphasis on human rights and the conditionality the United States placed on military assistance in particular stimulated a nationalistic backlash among the Guatemalan military officer corps, leading it in 1977 to reject our military aid. It would not be restored until fiscal year 1986.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, the guerrilla insurgency acquired much larger dimensions. It was met by an increasingly brutal counter- insurgency campaign carried out under a succession of military leaders: Laugerud Garcia (1974-78); Lucas Garcia (1978-1982); and Rios Montt (1982-83). Large-scale out-migration of Guatemalans began during this period, some 45,000 taking refuge in Mexico. Several hundred thousand Guatemalans who were uprooted by the war reside in the United States today; about 100,000 have pending asylum claims. There is no generally accepted figure for the number of Guatemalans killed during the conflict, but estimates range upward from a hundred thousand. Human rights abuses throughout this period were pervasive and systemic. They are well-documented in the annual human rights reports of the Department and in those of non-governmental organizations. It was also under Rios Montt that the military formed community-based civil defense patrols (PACs) and armed the nearly half million Indian peasants who were recruited into them. In time two problems associated with the PACs emerged: forced recruitment into their ranks and human rights abuses which they committed. In 1983 Rios Montt was overthrown by the Guatemalan Army itself. His Defense Minister, General Mejia, was named head of state and moved to hold constituent assembly elections the following year.

Following adoption of a new constitution in 1985, Guatemala held free and fair elections, won by the Christian Democratic candidate, Vinicio Cerezo. During the next eight years, between 1985-1992, the United States provided Guatemala approximately 936 million dollars total aid. Approximately $33 million of that amount was military, including financing and training. This was a significant amount of total aid but, for purposes of comparison, in the same period we gave $2.5 billion dollars to El Salvador and $1.175 billion to Honduras. In terms of aid per capita, the disproportionality was even more pronounced. El Salvador received between four and five times as much total aid per capita as Guatemala. The Bush Administration suspended military assistance -- both financing (FMF) and grant aid (MAP) -- in 1990 after concluding that elements of the military were responsible for the murder of American citizen Michael Devine. Our total aid in 1993 and 1994 was approximately $113 million, of which $148,000 went to IMET programs.

When Cerezo took office in January 1986, a regional diplomatic effort spearheaded by Mexico, known as the Contadora Process, had been underway for nearly three years. It was about to give way to an all-Central American initiative -- the Esquipulas Process. Both diplomatic efforts were aimed at bringing the Central American insurgencies to an end through peaceful negotiations and national reconciliation. The Esquipulas Process produced a series of agreements beginning in 1987 that provided the framework for free elections in Nicaragua in 1990 and the resulting demobilization of the Nicaraguan "contras." Peace negotiations had begun on a separate track in El Salvador in 1984; they eventually culminated in the historic 1992 comprehensive accords that ended that conflict.

In Guatemala, President Cerezo initiated talks with the Guatemalan guerrilla umbrella organization -- the URNG -- in 1987. Those talks made only limited progress but were continued and made more headway under President Serrano, elected in 1990. It was during Serrano's term, in the last year of the Bush Administration, that the United States initiated direct contacts with the URNG to encourage forward movement in the peace process. This support for the peace process has intensified during the Clinton Administration, when at the request of the Guatemalan Government and the URNG, the United States joined five other governments to constitute a "Group of Friends of the Peace Process."

President Cerezo completed his term and became the first civilian elected leader in Guatemala's history to turn power over to another civilian elected leader -- Jorge Serrano, in 1991. President Serrano betrayed his oath of office to uphold the constitution and attempted to dissolve the Congress and Supreme Court on May 25, 1993. In the ensuing twelve-day crisis, the Clinton Administration worked intensively to get democracy back on track. We collaborated closely with the Organization of American States, other interested governments, including Mexico, and with key sectors of Guatemalan society itself to produce a peaceful, constitutional outcome. The result was the departure of Serrano and the election by the Guatemalan Congress of Ramiro De Leon Carpio, the widely respected Human Rights Ombudsman. At the conclusion of the crisis it was clear that the Guatemalan military had acted responsibly. In particular, the military had backed the finding of Guatemala's constitutional court that the actions of Serrano and his vice president were unconstitutional.

De Leon's selection and the role of the military during the crisis gave us considerable hope that Guatemala could move to further consolidate its democracy, improve respect for human rights and end its insurgency through negotiations. Nothing would have a more dramatic and immediately favorable effect on the human rights situation than an end to the internal conflict. Our policy has thus placed considerable emphasis on that goal.

In January 1994 the government and URNG resumed negotiations and agreed to a new framework agreement and timetable for concluding the talks. Under the new framework, the talks were moderated by the United Nations and the Friends were given a supporting role. We appointed a special representative to the Friends Group to give our own support emphasis and focus.

Under the calendar, the parties laid out a schedule of issues to be negotiated and set the end of 1994 as the date for a comprehensive agreement. Talks made excellent progress during the first half of 1994. Three accords were particularly noteworthy. A human rights agreement reached in March last year provided for a United Nations Human Rights Verification Mission (MINUGUA), which has now deployed 313 human rights monitors throughout Guatemala. The accord also provides that the Human Rights Ombudsman has the responsibility to verify that service in the Civil Defense Patrols is voluntary and to determine whether PAC members have committed human rights abuses. The Government declares it will not support these patrols or arm new volunteer civil defense committees once peace is obtained. Acceptance by Guatemala of this international presence was a hopeful sign of its growing desire to abide by internationally accepted norms of human rights.

The Guatemalan government and the URNG also reached accords on aid to persons displaced by the war, which is already attracting international economic and technical support, and for a Historical Clarification Commission. The latter accord provoked controversy. The commission will begin to function only after a comprehensive agreement is reached. It will have the mandate to make a public report on human rights violations committed by both sides during the war but it does not have the authority to assign individual responsibility and its findings are not to be used for prosecutions.

Partly owing to the adverse reaction to this accord from within its own ranks, the URNG suspended talks in June, 1994. Negotiations did not resume until last October. Progress thereafter was slow, but last week, in Mexico City, the parties signed a fourth agreement concerning the rights of Guatemala's indigenous population. The parties are now attempting to reach a final peace accord by a new target date of this August. That is an ambitious goal, especially as Guatemala holds presidential elections in November and the De Leon transitional presidency is drawing to a close. The Clinton Administration believes that the peace talks still offer the most concrete hope for ending the last of Central America's internal wars and for bringing about a lasting improvement in respect for human rights in Guatemala. In a step full of symbolism, last year we redirected the remaining $4.6 million of the military assistance suspended in 1990 into a Peace Fund to support implementation of peace accords. In sum, the peace talks are key to Guatemala's future and will continue to receive our full support.

That is not to say that our human rights policy in Guatemala is limited to support for the peace process. Far from it. Read our human rights reports. They are candid and detailed. They pull no punches. We believe that they have encouraged Guatemalan human rights supporters and that our policy has given them some protection and greater space to act. Our human rights policy is not confined to advocacy and support of cases in which we have a United States citizen interest. We have been vocal and active in countless others as well -- the cases of Myrna Mack, Maritza Urrutia and Amilcar Mendez to cite just three cases active in recent years.

Our human rights policy also seeks to strengthen Guatemalan institutions that have responsibility for protecting and improving respect for human rights. Specifically, we have:

-- supported the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman to improve its ability to gather and analyze information on human rights abuses. Grants totalling $2.6 million in the last five years have enabled the office to set up regional bureaus, install a computer tracking system and extend education programs to indigenous audiences.

-- launched this year a three-year, $2 million program of education, technical assistance and other support to help indigenous and grassroots non-governmental organizations increase participation of the disenfranchised in civil society;

-- worked to improve the administration of justice through a $5 million project to increase the judicial system's independence and professionalism and supporting efforts by the Public Ministry and MINUGUA to prepare cases for trial under a new Criminal Procedures Code that took effect last July;

-- assisted municipalities to pursue legal reforms through the Local Government Outreach Strategy Project;

-- provided training to civilian investigators in the Public Ministry; and

-- supported the protection of street children by providing financial assistance to NGO's and the children's bureau of the Human Rights Ombudsman's office.

Let me say that we see no conflict between our participation in the peace process and our pursuit of human rights. Indeed, we view these efforts as complementary. The first major accord in the peace process deals precisely with halting violations of human rights. It is only by guaranteeing basic human rights and political freedoms that democracy becomes fundamental and accessible to all Guatemalans and national reconciliation can be assured.

In sum, our human rights policy is comprehensive and multifaceted. We seek to protect the rights of individuals and pursue with diligence specific cases of abuse. We actively support Guatemalan efforts to build the institutions of democracy and law which ultimately are the only guarantee of human rights. We make clear our commitment to constitutional government and free and fair elections. We participate in the peace process whose ultimate objective is to create the conditions for democratic progress.

Mr. Chairman, hundreds of thousands of American tourists visit Guatemala every year -- not only Guatemala City and the major attractions of Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenango. They also visit the Mayan sites of the Peten and the less accessible highlands. Protection of citizens who encounter problems is an interest to which we devote considerable resources: publication of consular information sheets and travel advisories; warden systems for checking on the welfare of citizens in the event of a natural disaster. In Guatemala we devote the services of one consular officer full time to the needs of U.S. citizens. Other consular staff lend assistance as required and on occasion consular welfare cases become the all-consuming focus of the entire embassy team. There have been numerous instances of such all-out efforts in the last two years in particular, as violent crime throughout in Guatemala has increased. Kidnappings have been a problem in the last year. In those cases we turn to Guatemalan authorities -- political, police and sometimes military for help. Cooperation is generally quite good. I make that point because -- in fairness to the Guatemalan government and people -- it's the truth.

It is not always the case, however. Let me now turn to the two cases that bring us here today. These cases date back to the early 1990's but, as they are unresolved, they remain of concern to us. In both instances, we worked with two courageous American women whose testimony you will hear today.

Case of Michael Vernon Devine

U.S. citizen Michael Devine was murdered June 8, 1990 near his ranch in Poptun, Guatemala. Given the remote location and the absence of any police investigative ability in the area, our embassy in Guatemala initially sought investigative assistance from the Guatemalan military. The embassy concluded in a matter of weeks, however, that the military itself was likely involved. Thereafter, and until the senior military commanders at the time of Devine's murder were replaced, we pressed our interest in resolving the case with the civilian government, first under President Cerezo and thereafter with Presidents Serrano and De Leon. Our goals throughout were to see the killers, intellectual authors and senior officers whom we believed to have covered up the crime face punishment and, in doing so, to have civilian control over the military effectively exerted.

In December 1990, and to drive home our dissatisfaction with the lack of real progress toward achieving these goals, the Department suspended FMF and MAP expenditures, both committed funds in the pipeline and new assistance, to the Guatemalan military. It also stopped authorization of the commercial sale of defense items to Guatemala's military. We maintained a small IMET program totalling $772,000 between 1991 and 1994.

Sheer persistence on the part of former Ambassador Stroock and his staff, together with the effective and courageous work of a private investigator and a Guatemalan attorney hired by Mrs. Devine, resulted in the conviction by a military court of five enlisted men for the murder in September 1992. The men were given 30-year sentences. Those sentences subsequently were upheld by the Supreme Court of Guatemala. Those men are now serving those sentences. Following continuous pressure by our Charge d' Affaires and the Embassy after Ambassador Stroock's departure in November, 1992, Guatemalan army Captain Hugo Contreras was also tried and convicted of complicity in the murder in May, 1993. He was given a 20-year sentence but, in our view, was allowed to escape from military custody the very same day. We have pressed continually for the Guatemalan military to find and reapprehend Contreras. Following her arrival in Guatemala in June, 1993, our new Ambassador, Marilyn McAfee, pressed continually for the Guatemalan military to locate and reapprehend Contreras. We have not been successful but neither have we abandoned that effort.

We believe that senior officials of the Guatemalan Army likely ordered the detention and interrogation of Michael Devine, possibly in connection with a case of missing army rifles. We have absolutely no reason to believe that Devine was engaged in any illegal or even improper activity. Nor is it the case that Devine was a DEA informant, as has been alleged in the press. It is virtually certain that the two colonels (Garcia Catalan and Portillo) who commanded the base from which the five enlisted men operated were conspirators in the subsequent coverup. We have conflicting information on the role of Colonel Alpirez. The bulk of the information suggests that he was involved in a coverup. The Embassy repeatedly pressed and continues to press the Government of Guatemala and senior military officials themselves to obtain an honest account from Alpirez and others.

Case of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez

Guatemalan guerrilla Efrain Bamaca Velasquez disappeared on March 12, 1992 after a firefight with the Guatemalan army. For nearly a year, his American citizen wife, Jennifer Harbury, told us she believed he died in combat. However, a former guerrilla, Santiago Cabrera Lopez, testified in February 1993 that, while detained by the Guatemalan military, he had seen Bamaca alive in military custody at the San Marcos military base in March and July 1992. At that point, Ms. Harbury contacted our Embassy for the first time on March 9, 1993, identifying herself as Bamaca's wife and seeking our assistance. The Embassy responded quickly, mobilizing all elements of the Embassy team to raise the case with their contacts in the Guatemalan Government to seek new information. On March 15, our Charge d' Affaires raised the case with the Guatemalan Attorney General.

On March 18, Embassy officials contacted then Human Rights Ombudsman Ramiro De Leon. He told them of inquiries about Bamaca the previous year -- in 1992 -- from the URNG and the approaches he made as a result to the Guatemalan military. The military claimed Bamaca was probably buried in an unmarked grave in Retalhuleu, the site of the firefight. De Leon had obtained permission to exhume the grave in May, 1992, but the proceeding was halted on the grounds that no family members or dental or other identifying records were present.

On March 22, 1993 the Embassy raised the case with the Guatemalan president's top human rights adviser. We also raised the case directly, in several channels, with senior military and military intelligence officials. From the outset, however, and to this day, the Guatemalan military maintained that they did not capture Mr. Bamaca.

Ambassador McAfee addressed the subject of clandestine prisons -- an issue raised by the Bamaca case -- with President De Leon July 11. She brought up the same issue, specifically referring to the Bamaca case with Minister of Defense Enriquez July 29 and did so again with President De Leon August 2. This pattern of aggressively pressing our interest in the Bamaca case continued throughout 1993 to the present. U.S. Government officials met with Ms. Harbury frequently and at high levels in Washington and Guatemala, a reflection of our extraordinary interest in the case. Ambassador McAfee made herself continuously available. In Washington Ms. Harbury met on numerous occasions with senior officials in our Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, with Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs John Shattuck, with Ambassador Geraldine Ferraro and with National Security Adviser Anthony Lake.

During Ms. Harbury's October-November 1994 hunger strike in Guatemala City, Ambassador McAfee visited her frequently and a consular officer visited her daily. Concerned for her physical safety, they had the Embassy's security guard visit the central plaza where she conducted the strike several times a day. Photographs of a visit to her by Ambassador McAfee and my senior adviser Richard Nuccio appeared on the front pages of most Guatemalan dailies, conveying a graphic message of official U.S. protection, support and concern.

At the same time we were asking our intelligence services to search their files and data bases for all available information, to evaluate and re-assess the information available (as is often the case, much was from secondary or subsources) and to collect new intelligence. As additional information was acquired, we became more and more persuaded that the Guatemalan military had in fact captured Bamaca in 1992. The Department instructed Ambassador McAfee to meet with President De Leon on November 11, 1994. The Ambassador told De Leon that, according to information available to the USG, Bamaca was captured alive by the military, transferred to the San Marcos military base and that his wounds were not life-threatening. She also told him that, as President, he had a responsibility to ensure that the investigation underway should be vigorously pursued to confirm the facts of the case, and to take appropriate strong action.

On the same day, Ambassador McAfee met with Jennifer Harbury, who had just ended her hunger strike. Ambassador McAfee told Ms. Harbury that she had informed President De Leon that we had credible information that Bamaca had been captured alive by the military and that his wounds were not life-threatening. The Ambassador also shared with Ms. Harbury our candid assessment that there were unfortunately no indications that Bamaca survived much beyond the first few weeks of his captivity. Ms. Harbury understandably wanted to know more. We felt that we had a strong obligation to share with her our best assessments drawn from intelligence sources -- once we were confident of them -- but could not share specific intelligence without putting at risk the people who were helping us find out what happened.

As additional information was acquired in the ensuing months, the intelligence community became increasingly persuaded that Bamaca had in fact been killed while in military custody. On several occasions between December 1994 and March 1995 Administration officials told Ms. Harbury of our belief that, while we lacked conclusive evidence, Bamaca had not survived. Ms. Harbury during the same period told us of numerous instances of people coming to her anonymously with reports that Bamaca had recently been seen alive in military custody. The only such report lending itself to verification turned out to be bogus. None of the intelligence supported Ms. Harbury's hope that Bamaca was still alive and we repeatedly conveyed that painful message.

When in late January of this year additional intelligence was received and evaluated, we instructed Ambassador McAfee to approach President De Leon again, urging him to order the re-interrogation of senior military officers who might have been involved in Bamaca's disappearance. We specifically urged that Colonel Alpirez be interrogated again. We did not assert to President De Leon any conclusion as to Colonel Alpirez' role -- the information available was not sufficiently definitive -- but we were confident that Alpirez must have had direct knowledge of what happened to Bamaca and we urged in no uncertain terms that he be interrogated again.

Ambassador McAfee made this demarche on February 6. On February 8 Department officials informed Ms. Harbury of the demarche, telling her as well that "the information available to us, while it is not conclusive, suggests your husband was killed following his capture." It was the considered view within the Administration, however, that we could not properly mention Alpirez' name to her because it might prejudice the investigation we expected President De Leon to undertake and because we could not draw a definitive conclusion about Alpirez' role in the Bamaca case. Most importantly, it would have put at risk the people who were confidentially helping us. When, after a month, Alpirez still had not been questioned again, we announced on March 10 the suspension of the participation of Guatemalan military personnel in IMET programs conducted in the United States for the remainder of FY 1995. Our announcement of that suspension also contained the considered assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Bamaca had died in Guatemalan military custody.

Mr. Chairman, I do not want to leave this subject without saying again how much we sympathize with Mrs. Devine, Ms. Harbury -- with all those who have lost a family member in circumstances such as these. We understand, too, the pain, the frustration and the anger that they feel when we cannot answer all the questions that torment them. At the same time, we made extraordinary efforts on behalf of Carol Devine and Jennifer Harbury -- as we did earlier in the cases of Nicholas Blake, Griffin Davis and Sister Dianna Ortiz. We acted in good faith throughout, doing our best to help them and to share with them as much information as we could.

We have pressed the Guatemalan government hard on both the Devine and Bamaca cases and we will continue to do so. Indeed, on instructions of Secretary Christopher, Ambassador McAfee met with President De Leon last night, delivering a personal message from the Secretary underscoring the importance that we attach to seeing justice achieved in these cases. For our part, we are prepared to provide the cooperation and assistance of our Federal Bureau of Investigation. For its part, we believe Guatemala could do much more to find and imprison Captain Contreras. We believe Guatemala has yet to conduct the kind of vigorous, credible inquiry in the Bamaca case that we have consistently called for and we will stay the course on that issue, too. We will continue to protect U.S. citizen interests in Guatemala to the best of our ability. We will speak up and remain active in our Guatemalan human rights policy across the board and we will stay engaged in support of the peace process and the consolidation of what is still a very fragile, imperfect democracy. Enlightened policy demands no less.

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