Guatemala: The activities of the Guatemalan Air Force regarding the bombing and targetting of civilian populations during the civil war and whether it assisted infantry troops in carrying out atrocities against civilians during the civil war (1974-1996)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||1 December 1998|
|Citation / Document Symbol||GTM30659.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Guatemala: The activities of the Guatemalan Air Force regarding the bombing and targetting of civilian populations during the civil war and whether it assisted infantry troops in carrying out atrocities against civilians during the civil war (1974-1996), 1 December 1998, GTM30659.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aaff0.html [accessed 21 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Although estimates of the total Guatemalan air force personnel slightly vary, most of the sources consulted for this Response to Information Request agree that it does not exceed 900 men, making it the smallest of Guatemala's armed forces branches. The 1983 Guatemala: A Country Study, published by the US department of Defense, reports that in "the overall Guatemalan defense structure, the air force is part of the army." (1983, 195)
However, information on the activities of the Guatemalan Air Force regarding the bombing and targetting of civilian populations during the civil war is scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
A 9 December 1987 Xinhua newsbrief quotes the general command of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union (URNG) which claimed that the air force was bombing and indiscriminately targetting civilian populations. "The command also said the Guatemalan army is preparing to increase bombings, forest fires and the use of toxic substances, to take advantage of the rainy season without considering the welfare of the civilian population, crops and property" (ibid.).
A 5 June 1993 San Francisco Chronicle article reports that "the air force has been conducting a bombing campaign for the past several months, causing several hundred refugees to flee to Mexico."
David Stoll's 1993 book Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala, states that "[Guatemalan] troops usually took the field in trucks, then on foot, with a few Bell 'Huey' helicopters ferrying commanders, transporting supplies, evacuating casualties, and sometimes providing fire support. Occasionally the army sent an A37 assault jet overhead on a sortie, but such displays of firepower were of little use against guerrillas" (1993, 141).
Victor Perera's 1993 book Unfinished Conquest: The Guatemalan Tragedy, reports that the military counterinsurgency strategy and technology included "bombing raids on [the guerrillas] mountain hideouts and a growing-and ecologically heedless-reliance on chemical defoliants" (1993, 192).
Perera also states that joint operations involving US and Guatemalan personnel were conducted during the civil war in which US air force equipment and crews were used. In May 1987, [Guatemala] President Cerezo requested the aid of three U.S. Chinook CH-147 helicopters based in Honduras to "airlift three hundred Guatemalan troops to Playa Grande, in the Ixcán [north of Quiche department], in preparation for the army' end-of-the-year offensive" (ibid., 108).
However, Tom Barry, in his 1990 book Guatemala: A Country Guide, downplays the impact of such US support on the Guatemalan Air Force real performance during the civil war. He states that
although the Pentagon has supplied some logistical and material support, the Guatemalan military has been unable to maintain a strong air capacity, which is critical for offensives in the isolated jungle and mountain areas where the guerrillas maintain their bases. In the last couple of years the URNG has improved its capabilities to shoot down army helicopters, thus further limiting the strength of the military's air force (1990,39).
Michael McLintock's 1985 book The American Connection: State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala, one of the best accounts of Guatemala's civil war, states that by about 1966, Guatemala's armed forces could count on "a total force of over 700 'airborne and airmobile troops' in the Special Forces and 'Airborne Infantry' units, the elite of Guatemala's counter-insurgency forces" (1985, 57).
A Special Air Warfare unit was also created "with the composite missions of coastal patrol, target location, psychological operations, medical aid, evacuation and trooplift" (ibid., 58).
The Research Directorate was unable to find reports on air force personnel assisting infantry troops in carrying out atrocities against civilians during the civil war beyond their traditional role of offering air support as described above.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Barry, Tom. 1990. Guatemala: A Country Guide. Albuquerque: The Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center.
Guatemala: A Country Study. 1983. 2nd ed. Nyrop, Richard F. Washington, DC: US Dept. of the Army.
McLintock, Michael. 1985. The American Connection vol. 2: State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala. Zed Books.
San Francisco Chronicle. 5 June 1993. Trish O'Kane. "A Guide to Who's Who in Guatemalan Power Struggle." (NEXIS)
Perera, Victor. 1993. Unfinished Conquest: The Guatemalan Tragedy. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Stoll, David. 1993. Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Xinhua News Service. 9 December 1987. "Guatemalan Guerrilla Rap U.S. Military Aid." (NEXIS)
Additional Sources Consulted
Aguilera, Gabriel et al. 1996. Buscando la Seguridad: Seguridad Ciudadana y Consolidación Democrática en Guatemala.
Falla, Ricardo. 1992. Massacres in the Jungle: Ixcán, Guatemala, 1975-1982.
Handy, Jim. 1984. Gift of the Devil: A History of Guatemala.
Jane's Intelligence Review [London]. 1996-1998.
The Military Balance 1997/1998 [London]. 1997.
Electronic sources: IRB Databases, Global News Bank, Lexis/Nexis, Internet, REFWORLD, World News Connection (WNC).