For centuries, the indigenous group, the Mayan people, had lived peacefully in Guatemala amongst others, making up 40% of the Guatemalan population. That was until 1960 when what would become a 36 year long civil war broke out in Guatemala. This would ultimately lead to genocide that would be known as “The Silent Holocaust.”
In 1960, civil war began as left-wing guerilla groups started battling government Guatemalan military forces. The regime made the threat posed by the Mayan rebel organizations seem much bigger than it was and classified them as internal enemies. The country was now under the dictatorship of General Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes who had come to power in 1958 after the murder of the former president. The government believed that the descendants of the kingdom that was occupied by the Spanish at the start of the 16th century were less than Latin people. They were said to be lazy, barbaric and primitive; therefore, they were to blame for the country’s poverty.
In 1982 General Ríos Montt and the army overthrew General Romeo Lucas García and seized power. The U.S was rather complicit with this and set up a military junta with Ríos Montt at its head. The U.S supported Rios Montt. According to an article in the New York Times, On December 5, 1982, President Reagan met with Rios Montt in Honduras and said he was “a man of great integrity'' and "totally dedicated to democracy.” The involvement of the U.S. in the Guatemalan genocide was significant because America provided training, arming and financing the troops. Additionally, the U.S. taught the Guatemalans torture methods, as part of the Reagan administration’s campaign against communism even though there was a restriction on military aid that was put in place by the Carter administration. This helped economic assistance increase to $104 million in 1986, which was up from $11 million in 1980. Most of the money went to the government forces in the western highlands, where the Mayan, victims of genocide lived. A left-wing rebel group known as the guerillas stood up and fought for the civilians, the Mayans, who were being abducted, raped, tortured and killed.
There were several methods utilized to torture the Mayans. While some were being tortured to death, others were made to watch and take part. Children were often beat against walls, thrown into pits while they were still alive, and they were also raped. Men, women, and children suffered while having their limbs amputated and were also impaled and left to die slowly while others were set on fire. The torturous methods also included disembowelling people and cutting open the wombs of pregnant women while they were still alive. Others were shot over and over and left alone to die in pain. There is evidence of the extermination of a total of 42,275 Mayan men, women and children. Of these, 23,671 were victims of arbitrary acts of murder, and 6,159 were victims of forced disappearance. Among the victims who were identified with certainty, 83% were Mayan and 17% were Ladino. (http://combatgenocide.org/?page_id=158)
After 36 years, the Guatemalan government signed a peace pact formally called the Oslo Accords with the insurgent group, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in 1996. Part of the agreement was that the United States was to organize a Commission of Historical Clarification (CEH). (http://combatgenocide.org/?page_id=1580) This commision began running in July 1997, and was funded by a number of countries, including the United States. On February 1999, it released its report, “Guatemala: Memory of Silence,” which stated that a governmental policy of genocide was carried out against the Mayan Indians. In March 1994, an agreement regarding Mayan rights was signed in Oslo. In June 1994,the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) was signed. According to this agreement, an agency was established that was sponsored by the United Nations focused on investigating the genocide of the Mayan and the Ladino during the years of the civil war, 1960-1994. In March 1995, an additional agreement regarding Mayan rights was signed, after which the civil war ended. The Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) reported its findings in 1999 and affirmed that, “the violence on the part of the state was directed, first and foremost, against the isolated, the impoverished, and, above all, against the Maya” (combatgenocide.org/).