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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): Death Squads, Guerrilla War, Covert Operations, and Genocide: Guatemala and the U.S., 1954-1999

About this Collection

Death Squads, Guerrilla War, Covert Operations, and Genocide: Guatemala and the United States, 1954-1999 contains 2,071 declassified documents describing U.S. relations with Guatemala during the decades of violent conflict sparked by the CIA-controlled coup in 1954. The documents include CIA operational records produced during the coup, National Security Council deliberations on consolidating a post-coup regime friendly to the United States, and extensive intelligence and embassy reporting on Guatemala's U.S.-trained security apparatus.

The material includes detailed information on the human rights catastrophe that gripped Guatemala during its 30-year civil conflict. Finally and most uniquely, the set contains an extraordinary and chilling record smuggled out of the archives of Guatemalan military intelligence—the grim, 54-page diario militar, or "death squad diary," obtained by National Security archive staff, which ties the Guatemalan army directly to the disappearance of dozens of Guatemalan citizens (DNSA Item No. GU01030).

Collection Background

This collection pulls together more than 2,000 primary source documents describing Guatemala’s internal political, military, social and economic conditions, as well as the details of U.S.-Guatemala relations during this critical period. The documents, many of which appear here for the first time, feature CIA operational records for the 1954 coup, top-level National Security Council deliberations for consolidating the post-coup counterinsurgency campaign, and materials describing decades of military and police training as well as economic assistance programs that aimed at fending off Cold War threats to the region but that also bolstered the activities of repressive regimes and contributed to the enormous suffering of the population. Of special interest to researchers will be the wide range of U.S. intelligence and embassy reporting on Guatemala’s American-trained security apparatus and its history of involvement in the country’s dreadful human rights abuses. In addition, the set contains dramatic revelations from Guatemalan archives, principally in the form of the grim, 54-page diario militar, or “death squad diary,” obtained by project staff, which ties the Guatemalan army directly to the “disappearance” of dozens of Guatemalan citizens (DNSA Item No. GU01030).

These documents are the result of a six-year intensive effort to press for the declassification of internal U.S. files that might otherwise have remained secret indefinitely. The principal agencies and government archives targeted by the Archive using the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were the State Department (including the embassy in Guatemala), the Defense Department, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, Southern Command and military services, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Agency for International Development, the Executive Office of the President and the National Security Council. In addition, in 1997 National Security Archive staff joined forces with other non-governmental organizations and human rights groups to bring pressure on the Clinton administration to respond to declassification requests from the Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission. Thanks also to congressional revelations that CIA informants within Guatemala’s security forces were involved in gross human rights violations, the administration produced an extraordinary trove of State Department, CIA and Defense Department records that greatly expand our understanding of the roots of Guatemala’s domestic turmoil, the extent of the government’s involvement or awareness of those crimes, and the nature of U.S. activities in the country at the time. The most important of those releases appear in this collection.