Military of Honduras (Image Source=2)

To the left is an image of an Honduran military group, mobilized in the background with their flag in the foreground. They wear body army, carry riot shields, and are armed both with weapons and the authority of the government to use them to protect the state. However, should this military group be authorized by their government to use deadly force on their own population, their fellow citizens, they will be committing a UN recognized war crime, and perpetuate a phenomenon known as 'State Terrorism'. However, the punishments they will receive for doing this, if any, are less guaranteed. Should the government whose will that they are carrying out remain in power through their actions, repercussions of any sort may never befall them at all. This is but one grim fact of state terrorism.

State Terrorism is, using a broad definition, any method in which the government of a country attempts to frighten their own population, often through violent means. However, state terrorism, like any other form of terrorism, has no universally accepted definition (1) . In the same way that individual terrorists can be seen as either freedom fighters or monsters, government-led terror can be seen either as a state exercising its right to self determination or as a state making the population fear them with any number of nefarious goals in mind to justify doing so. The state may wish to silence protesters with public murders of key figures. They may sponsor groups that terrorize lower class peoples to prevent rebellion. Or, in some cases, the state terrorism may come in the form of war itself, with these actions taking place under the heading of civil war. In all cases, the state is attempting to reach some conclusion, and their methods are to terrorize their own citizens. The United Nations itself lists the following as the definition of
any form of terrorism, including the use of state terrorism:

"Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperiled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought" (Schmid, 1988). (3)

However, despite this long and seemingly complete definition regarding what can be seen as state terrorism, and the fact that terrorism is considered a war crime (4), acts of state terrorism are frequent in Latin America, and often go unpunished, or punished many years after they happened if they are at all. Cases such as a protesting school teacher in Honduras being shot in front of their students by masked government men (5), Venezuela being added to a list of country's which sponsor terrorism (6), and the violent government repressions of working-middle class peoples in Colombia (7), Latin America can be seen as a continent full of textbook cases on state terrorism. Below are specific examples from Argentina (with the Dirty War), Colombia (groups such as FARC, FLN, AUC), and Guatemala (with the Guatemalan Civil War), each of which represents some facet of state terrorism, as well as highlighting the similarities that all acts of state terrorism share.


An infamous example of state terrorism is the Dirty War conducted by the Argentine military government in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Understanding the actions and motives of the government gives insight into both why the state may decide to terrorise its own people, and how it does so without being overthrown in a revolt.
Jorge Rafael Videla, the original leader of the military junta following the 1976 coup
Jorge Rafael Videla, the original leader of the military junta following the 1976 coup

The Dirty War began as a conflict between the right-wing military junta and the left-wing guerrillas that were attempting to remove them from power. However, the government soon began to use the war against the guerrillas as an opportunity to remove civilians sympathetic to the guerrillas cause, as well as other political opponents. During the rule of the military junta from 1976 to 1983 (1) at least 15000, and perhaps as many as 30000, people were killed or “disappeared” (meaning there was no official record of their arrest/execution) (3). While some of these people were guerrillas fighting against the government, most were civilians. Trade unionists, students, and left-wing political opponents were detained by government forces, tortured, and executed.

The main reason for the military government to subject its own people to such atrocities was in order to maintain power. This is a common theme in most Latin American countries in which state terrorism takes place. Creating fear among the general population prevents the formation of a strong, unified opposition against the policies and actions of the government. In the case of Argentina, the government used laws such as National Executive Power (PEN) to legally disregard an individual’s rights to trial and legal protection (2). Under the PEN law, the state was able to hold anyone for an indefinite amount of time; indeed, some people were held for eight or nine years. The fear of imprisonment, torture, and death scared most people into submission, and they did not protest the actions of the government.

Another reason governments will repress certain groups is to allow implementation of policies some find undesirable. For instance, the elimination of trade unionists allowed policies to be implemented that unionists, small businesses, and the majority of Argentines did not find agreeable. With these groups out of the way or too afraid to protest, economic policies could be adopted that would benefit members of the military and their supporters (6).

Governments that use terrorism against their own people do not, of course, admit that they are doing so, instead creating or exaggerating threats to the state in order to justify their actions. In Argentina, the military junta used the left-wing guerrillas as a pre-text for the imprisonment, execution, and disappearance of many political opponents and left-leaning civilians. As the dictatorship progressed, the new mission of the military became to protect the country against subversion, which became used as further justification for torturing and murdering civilians (6). Even during the trials after 1983, former junta leaders maintained that their actions were necessary to prevent communism from taking over in Argentina.
Persecution by the military during the Dirty War
Persecution by the military during the Dirty War

The effects of the Dirty War on Argentina’s politics and way of life are still felt today. An ongoing forensic investigation is attempting to identify the remains of thousands of bodies so that families can finally know what really happened to friends and relatives who were “disappeared” by the military junta. As in many countries where state terrorism has occurred, much remains unknown about the actions of the state after the fact, as previous leaders are unwilling to admit their crimes. This creates mistrust and anger among the public, who see those who were responsible for their suffering let off with no punishment for their deeds. Military leaders rarely face persecution for their participation in state terrorism, as even after a return to civilian rule has been accomplished, the military usually remains too powerful to easily bring leaders to justice. Argentina was a rare example, in that a truth commission was created and many leaders did face trials and jail for their roles in the Dirty War (3). Even in Argentina, however, initial attempts at prosecuting military leaders failed due to unrest among the army, and pardons were granted to leaders of the military government soon after the trials began. In addition, laws were passed to prevent further prosecutions, such as the 1986 “full-stop” law, which ended further trials of those who took part in the torture and murder of captured individuals (4). Not until 2005 did Argentina’s Supreme Court repeal these laws, and the pardons were not lifted until 2006, after which prosecution began in earnest under the government of Nestor Kirchner (5).

While the international reaction to state terrorism is most often to denounce the government committing the crimes, little is often done to deter governments from abusing their own people. During the Dirty War, governments from the United States and West Europe denounced the actions of the government (8), particularly when their own citizens were kidnapped and killed (7). However, little was done to effectively deter the junta from its course. Argentine diplomats were instructed to lie to the United Nations and western governments critical of the regime (7). Despite the disapproval of the international community, the junta was allowed to rule until 1983, when the loss of the Falklands War led to a return of democratic rule (8).

The Dirty War stands out as one of the more brutal and terrible examples of state terrorism within Latin America. Like other countries where state terrorism occurred, the military used its power to gain and maintain power at the expense of the general population. People suspected of left-wing political beliefs, or who opposed new policies were killed. The state excused its actions by fabricating and exaggerating threats, which helped to keep the public calm and the international community at bay. The basic elements of state terrorism were present in Argentina’s Dirty War, but the scale on which they occurred was much greater and more terrible than in many other Latin American countries.


State terrorism occurs frequently in Columbia as for it consists of three terrorist organizations all of which are strongly bound together and consist of large numbers of members. These guerrilla movements exist to show dissent and opposition towards the government.

There are three terrorist organizations in Columbia :

1)The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
History : The creation of FARC can be traced back to the period of La Violencia (1948-1958). La Violencia was the movement to protect the landless people. The conflict was between the conservatives and the pro reform liberals. The conservatives were supported by the capital and landowners who wanted to maintain power within the state and church. During the period of La Violencia numerous casualties occurred. The landless community came together and formed a rebellious group called “independent R
FARC Guerrillas
FARC Guerrillas
epublics”. FARC is the accumulation of these groups. FARC fought through La Violencia against the paramilitary. In 1958 La Violencia ended with a power sharing agreement between the conservatives and the liberals. Later on the Columbian Communist Party established FARC as a military wing in 1964 this was done under the rule of Manuel Marulanda who is known as “ Tirofijo “. FARC is the best equipped rebellious group of the Marxist believers.

Contains of 9,000 and 12,000 armed forces
Operations/Activities: Kidnapping, drug trafficking, extortion, coercion, blackmail, murders, hijacking, bombings, and military actions.
External Aid : Some external aid has come from Cuba
Present FARC : Frequently FARC has been weakened due to the governmental attacks towards them as well as their strong leader Manuel Marulanda was murdered. [2]

2)National Liberation Army ( ELN)
[3] external image eln.jpg History: The National Liberation Army was formed in 1965. Just as the FARC these are followers of the Marxist view as well. There are peace talks between the ELN, Bogota, Cuba, and the Havana. Bogota did not presume with these peace negotiations as for these peace talks were of no use.
Strength: About 3,000 to 5,000 active forces
Operations/ Activities: The ELN has stayed away from illegal drug trafficking but still commits crimes such as hijacking, kidnapping people for ransom money, as well as damaging the pipelines, infrastructure, and electric networks.
External Aid: Cuba provides the ELN with support as well.
Present ELN: Paramilitary attacks against the ELN have weakened the organization. In 2009 the ELN successfully brought out one of their leaders from jail and tried to show the government that their force is still well put together. Drug trafficking is now one of their main sources of income instead of kidnapping for ransom money.

3)United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC)
History: The AUC was formed in 1997, they are paramilitaries used for self defence. These organizations protect their local areas
Member of AUC
Member of AUC
as well as economic developments. The main sponsors for AUC are the powerful elites and drug trafficking. The main purpose of AUC is to protect the sponsors.
Strength: The AUC has about 8,000 to 15,000 active forces, they have been growing.
Operations/ Activities: Some of the activities performed by the AUC are drug trafficking, killing people who are involved with revolutionary movements and supporting their sponsors and FARC as well as ELN.
External Aid: AUC receives no external aid
Present AUC: Paramilitary leaders and fighters are being demobilized. By 2002 these terrorist organizations were responsible for many of the murders which happened in Colombia. President Pastrana terminated the demilitarized Zone for this organization, in this zone government intervention was not allowed.[4]

Steps toward improvement
  • The European and American terrorist organizations list includes the FARC, ELN, and AUC. They are considered to be a global threat and these organizations need to be prevented.
  • United States has decided to help prevent these terrorist groups using anti-terrorism plans. However a point to consider would be that these organizations are strongly bound together and they have large amounts of territory, force, money, and supporters. Therefore strong raids would be of no use because these organizations are too strong to be demolished. Peace negotiations is considered a useful tactic used by president Pastrana but the peace process moves very slowly. Another action taken by Pastrana is expiring the demilitarized zone which is located in Southeast Columbia. When this action was declared, the FARC was furious. The demilitarized zone was the area in which FARC committed drug procedures, kidnapping, and more horrid acts. FARC threatened to kidnap and murder more citizens if the demilitarized zone was taken away, so Pastrana extended the date of expiration.
  • United states has started “Plan Columbia” which provides aid. The belief within this program is that a better military can solve the disaster and chaos in Columbia. The problem with this plan is that the elite doesn’t want to participate as for they would have to pay more taxes in order to have a better military which can conquer the terrorist groups. United States encourages increase of employment this is because most citizens are unemployed and in order for them to make money they would have to do it illegally as for they do not have an education. Illegal jobs include drug trade or joining these terrorist organizations. Combating employment would be a step towards combating the terrorism in Columbia.


Guatemalan Coat of Arms
Guatemalan Coat of Arms

Guatemala's civil war was the longest and bloodiest of Central America's recent conflicts. More than 140,000 were killed - twice as many as in the conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador combined. Guatemalans witnessed a wide assortment of horrifying events: burnings, rapes, torture, disappearances and executions during this time of war.

Timeline: Pre-War:
  • July 4, 1944: Dictator Jorge Ubico Castaneda was forced to resign his office in response to a wave of protests and a general strike.
    Jacobo Arbenz Guzman (President 1951-1954)
    Jacobo Arbenz Guzman (President 1951-1954)
  • October 20, 1944: His replacement, General Juan Federico Ponce Vaidea was later also forced out of office by a coup d’etat led by Major Francisco Javier Arana and Captain Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. About 100 people were killed in the coup.
  • 1945: Guatemala's first free election was called, which was won with a majority of 85 percent by the prominent writer and teacher Juan Jose Arevalo, who had lived in exile in Argentina for 14 years. Arévalo was the first democratically elected president of Guatemala to fully complete the term for which he was elected. (term ended in 1951)
  • This period was also the beginning of the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR, which was to have a considerable influence on Guatemalan history. From the 1950s through the 1990s, the U.S. government directly supported Guatemala's army with training, weapons, and money.
  • 1951: Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was elected freely as the successor of Arevalo, and he became the leader of the left-leaning group who fought for recognition of the vast inequalities existing within Guatemala. One of his reforms was the nationalization of fallow lands to be distributed to landless peasants.
  • However, in 1954, he made his fatal error. Arbenz extended his nationalization program to unused holdings of the country’s largest landowner, which happened to be the Boston-based United Fruit Company (UFCO); a company which had gained control over a large portion of the nation’s infrastructure and resources. The Company had strong ties with the United States government, and with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), they created a plan to end Guatemala’s drift under the leftist influence.
    Carlos Castillo Armas (President 1954-1957)
    Carlos Castillo Armas (President 1954-1957)
  • Right-wing Carlos Castillo Armas was chosen to lead a rebellion in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’etat. Armas quickly began to dismantle the changes that had been implemented over the last decade, outlawing labour unions and leftist political parties. The United States was hoping that this coup would bring about stability, however it only amplified the chaos. A series of military uprisings began; using rigged electoral processes to guarantee military men seats of power. They all sought to eliminate any individual who questioned the government’s feudal order, therefore increasing numbers of the poor took up armed resistance.
  • 1957: Carlos Castillo Armas assassinated by a member of his personal guard.
  • 1958: In the election that followed, General Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes assumed power.
Early Years:
  • 1960: By the end of 1960 a war was on, albeit on a small scale. The United States backed the military, the Soviets and Cuba gave support to the guerrillas, and the country descended the longest war in Latin America’s history.
  • In the first phase of the conflict, mainly the 1960s, the "insurrection" was led by middle-class intellectuals and students (Guatemalan Party of Labour - PGT) who had a mostly urban base and who were easily defeated militarily by an army that was trained by US soldiers and the CIA.
  • In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of General Ydigoras Fuentes, a group of junior military officers from the military academy revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with the Cuban government. This group began the focal point in the armed forces against the government during the civil war. The guerrilla organization was known as Revolutionary Movement 13th November (MR-13), named after the day of the insurrection.
    Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes (President 1958-1963)
    Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes (President 1958-1963)
  • 1963: Ydigoras' government was ousted when the Air Force attacked several military bases. The coup was led by his Defense Minister, Colonel Enrique Peralta Azurdia to end the possibility of a return of former leftist president Juan Jose Arevalo in the upcoming elections.
  • November 1965: U.S. security adviser John P. Longan arrived in Guatemala and worked with elite members in the Guatemalan army to set up a death squad known as “Operation Cleanup” that throughout 1966 conducted a wide set of kidnappings and assassinations. This has since been described as the first wave of collective counterinsurgent “disappearances” in Latin America. Victims included the leaders of Guatemala's labour and peasant federations during Arbenz’ presidency.
  • 1966: President Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro takes office. It was during this time that rightist paramilitary organizations, such as the "White Hand" and the Anticommunist Secret Army were formed. Those organizations were the spearheads of the infamous "Death Squads." Military advisers from the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) sent to train troops in Guatemala; effectively makes Guatemala’s army into the most sophisticated in Central America. Subsequently, the army launches a large counterinsurgency campaign to break up the guerrilla movement in the countryside.
  • The 1970s saw the true emergence of guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla attacks often included attacks against the right-winged military and often civilians who showed support to the army.
  • 1970: Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio elected president.
"Total War":
  • Burial of Those Killed in Panzos
    Burial of Those Killed in Panzos
    1978: In a fraudulent election, General Romeo Lucas Garcia gained power.
  • 1978-1982: Rio Negro Massacre. In 1978, in the face of civil war, the Guatemalan government proceeded with its economic development program, including the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The Chixoy Dam was built in Rabinal, a region historically populated by the Maya Achi and in order to complete construction, the government wanted to relocate citizens from the fertile agricultural valleys to the much harsher surrounding highlands. When hundreds of residents refused to relocate, these men, women, and children were kidnapped, raped, and massacred by paramilitary and military officials. More than 440 Maya Achi were killed in the village of Rio Negro alone, and the string of extra-judicial killings that claimed up to 5,000 lives between 1980 and 1982 became known as the Río Negro Massacres. The government officially declared the acts to be counterinsurgency activities - although local church workers, journalists and the survivors of Rio Negro deny that the town ever saw any organized guerrilla activity.
  • May 29, 1978: The village of Panzós was the site of a massacre in which between 30 and 60 local inhabitants were killed by the army in a dispute over land rights with Canadian nickel mining company Vale Inco.
  • 1979: U.S. President Jimmy Carter ordered a ban on all military aid to the Guatemalan army because of the high rate of of abuse on human rights.
  • By the early 1980s, the army had pushed the guerrillas into remote areas like El Peten but couldn't extinguish them entirely. Political killings and human rights abuses continued.
    UNRG Propaganda Poster
    UNRG Propaganda Poster
  • January 31, 1980: Burning of the Spanish Embassy. A group of K’iche’ and Ixil peasant farmers inhabited the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in a protest of the kidnapping and murder of peasants in the countryside by members of the Guatemalan Army. The government of Guatemala enforced an assault on the embassy despite the protest of the Spanish ambassador. The result was a fire that consumed the building and left 36 people dead. The government claimed that activists had set the fire, however this claim was refuted when the Spanish Ambassador who had survived the fire argued that the Guatemalan police intentionally set the fire to erase evidence of their actions. Ultimately, Spain cut all diplomatic relations with Guatemala for four years due to this event. The incident has been called "the defining event" of the Guatemalan Civil War.
  • 1982: The four principal left-wing guerrilla groups: Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA), Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT) combined to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (UNRG). They were known for conducting events of economic sabotage and armed attacks on government facilities and members of government security forces. In retaliation, extreme right wing groups such as the White Hand tortured and murdered students and peasants suspected of any involvement with leftist activity.
  • March 23, 1982: Army troops staged a coup to prevent the assumption of power by General Angel Anibal Guevara (President Lucas’ choice for succession); declaring the victory as a fraud. The leaders of the coup asked retired General Efrain Rios Montt to negotiate the successful dethroning of Lucas and Guevara. After the overthrow; Rios Montt was named President of the military junta, yet continued with the previous military’s campaign of torture and forced disappearances. Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies denounced the very man that they had recruited; and soon the nation was forced into the situation it had been trying to avoid: another right-winged president.
  • July 18, 1982: Plan de Sánchez Massacre. Over 250 people (mostly women and children, and almost exclusively ethnic Achi Maya) were abused and murdered by members of the armed forces and their paramilitary allies.
    Efrain Rios Montt (President 1982-1983)
    Efrain Rios Montt (President 1982-1983)
  • December 6, 1982: Dos Erres Massacre. During the presidency of Rios Montt, over 200 people – including women, the elderly, and children – were massacred there by government forces as a part of the government's scorched earth policy, in which up to 200,000 indigenous and Mayan people died.
  • The government under Rios Montt began to form local civilian defense patrols (PACs). Supposedly, participation was to be voluntary, but in reality many Guatemalans had no option but to choose a side: either the PACs or the guerrillas. This brief presidency was probably the most violent period of the entire civil war, which resulted in about 200,000 deaths of mostly unarmed indigenous civilians. Although leftist guerrillas and right-wing death squads were also responsible for mass executions, torture of innocent bystanders, and forced disappearances, the large majority of human rights violations were carried out by the Guatemalan military and the PACs they controlled. (estimated at 80%-93%) Internationally, Guatemala had become known as a “pariah state.”
Attempts for Peace:
  • August 8, 1983: Rios Montt was overthrown by his own Minister of Defense: General Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, who called for an election of a national constitutional assembly to write a new constitution.
  • May 30, 1985: A new constitution is drafted by the Consituent Assembly; put into effect immediately.
  • January 14, 1986:Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo wins the first free election with almost 70% of the vote and takes office.
  • 1986: Cerezo’s civilian government announces top priorities would be to bring a halt to the violence of the government. Reforms included new laws of court-ordered protection, the introduction of a legislative human rights committee, and the establishment in 1987 of the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman. The military was to shift their focus back to the traditional role of providing security against rising armed forces rather than in politics. The first 2 years of Cerezo's presidency were marked with a stable economy and a decrease in violence. However, the government was heavily condemned for its unwillingness to look into human rights violation cases.
  • However, the final 2 years of Cerezo's government also were marked by a failing economy, strikes, protests, and accusations of corruption. The government was unable to cope with many national issues such as inefficient health and social programs and rising violence; this added to the discontent of the population.
  • 1990: The United States cut off military aid in 1990, and the government agreed to peace talks.
  • November 11, 1990: Presidential and congressional elections held.
  • January 14, 1991: Jorge Serrano became the 29th President of Guatemala, completing the first successful transition from one democratically elected civilian government to another.
  • May 25, 1993, Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court and tried to restrict civil freedoms, allegedly to fight corruption. This self-initiated coup failed due to strong protests by the majority of the Guatemalan population. In the face of this resistance, Serrano fled the country.
    Ramiro de Leon Carpio (President 1993-1996)
    Ramiro de Leon Carpio (President 1993-1996)
End of War:
  • June 5, 1993: Congress elected the Human Rights Ombudsman Ramiro de Leon Carpio to complete Serrano’s term; subsequently launching an ambitious anti-corruption campaign to "purify" Congress and the Supreme Court, demanding the resignations of all members of the two bodies.
  • November 1993: Despite considerable congressional resistance, presidential and popular pressure led to an agreement between the administration and Congress.
  • January 30, 1994: Constitutional reforms approved by popular referendum.
  • August 1994: A new Congress was elected to complete the unexpired term. Controlled by anti-corruption parties; the new Congress began to move away from the corruption that had existed in Guatemalan government for decades.
  • December 1996: The Guatemalan Civil War officially came to its end with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government, negotiated through the United Nations. Within the accord were immediate plans for the demobilization of rebel forces and the downsizing of the Guatemalan government, therefore reducing the risk of violence that had plagued the nation for the last 36 years.

Crime Against Human Rights:
external image 3.1252433819.remembering-those-who-died-in-the-civil-war.jpg
During the first 10 years of the Guatemalan Civil War, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures, but in the last years they were thousands of mostly rural Mayan farmers and innocent civilians. More than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed and over 200 thousand people, mostly Mayan, were killed during the civil war. Out if these massive crimes against humanity, the Office for Human Rights(ODHAG) attributed almost 90% of the violations and over 400 massacres to have been committed by the Guatemalan army and paramilitary, and only 5% to the guerrillas. It has been said that in many cases of the crimes committed by the state, victims were almost always subjected to interrogation, accompanied by torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the majority of cases, the detainees either disappeared or were executed. The government operated under the belief that the threat of the guerrillas had to be neutralized at all cost, unfortunately they failed to use a scrutinizing eye and often this led to unarmed civilians being accused of association with the hated left-wing forces.

The Convicted:

1999: Candido Noriega
  • Paramilitary Candido Noriega was jailed for fifty years for his role in the deaths of dozens whilst employed by the Guatemalan army.
    Felipe Cusanero (2009)
    Felipe Cusanero (2009)
August 31 2009: Felipe Cusanero
  • In August of 2009, Felipe Cusanero, a local farmer was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his role in the disappearance of six indigenous members of a Mayan farming community. Cusanero was known for his involvement in a network of paramilitaries who gave information to the army about possible leftists during Guatemala’s counterinsurgency campaign between the years of 1982 and 1984.
  • He was the first person to ever be convicted for carrying out acts of forced disappearance during the Civil War; appearing before three judges to receive his sentence. Cusanero was charged with a 25-year prison sentence for each of his victims, later hailed as a “landmark” sentence.
December 3 2009: Colonel Marco Antonio Sanchez, Jose Domingo Rios, Gabriel Maldonado Alvarez Ramos, and Solomon Rivers.
  • On Dec. 3, retired colonel Marco Antonio Sánchez became the first army officer convicted in connection with enforced disappearances. He and three of his subordinate paramilitary officers: Jose Domingo Rios, Gabriel Maldonado Alvarez Ramos and Solomon Rivers; known during the civil war as "military commissioners" - were sentenced to 53 years in prison for the October 1981 kidnapping and disappearance of eight peasants.
  • On October 19, 1981, eight people from the village El Jute, in the province of Chiquimula, were seized by soldiers and taken to a military base in Zacapa, never to be heard from again.
  • The convictions against Sanchez and his men marked the first sentencing against high tanking military officials for violating human rights during the civil war.

The Guatemalan civil war was the longest running and most violent war in Latin America. Apart from the known victims, 45,000 people disappeared.
It is assumed they were murdered; their bodies have never been found.


State terrorism, as has been seen, occurs for a wide variety of reasons, and in a great many Latin American nations. However, despite how widespread it is, state terrorism is an odd phenomenon to combat, because the people guilty of perpetrating it are often integral military organizations within the government, and therefore, often beyond accountability. Alexandra Barahona de Brito, an author on the subject of state terrorism and democratization, highlighted in her book 'Human Rights and Democratization in Latin America: Uruguay and Chile' that new democratic governments that replaced regimes which participated in state terrorism were faced with the question of how to punish those involved without bringing down the very institutions which were making their rule possible(8). Through this aspect, and many others, it can be seen that state terrorism, while an obvious crime, has no obvious solution. Without an internationally agreed upon definition, or any sort of international apparatus in place to prevent and punish state terrorism, it can be seen why Latin American countries face it with such chilling regularity, as has been seen through individual case studies on Argentina, Colombia, and Guatemala, where justice was slow to come, if it did at all, and even when the state terrorists were punished, it was too late for the people that had been ruined of killed by their actions. These three states highlighted many different, and similar, aspects of state terrorism, but the fact remains that they are not the only three examples available from this region of the world. State terrorism affects every nation in Latin America to some degree, but through research and learning on this complex topic, it can come to be better understood, and, perhaps someday, be properly punished and prevented.



  • (1) No Author. "Timeline: Argentina". BBC News. 24 Feb. 2010. Web. 27 Mar. 2010.
  • (2) Marchak, Patricia. "God's Assassins: State Terrorism in Argentina in the 1970's". McGill-Queen's University Press, Quebec. 1999.
  • (3) No Author. "Latin American Dictatorships- and after: The Challenge of the Past". The Economist. Sao Paulo. 22 Oct. 1998.
  • (4) No Author. "Argentina: The Politics of the Dirty War". The Economist. Buenos Aires. 12 Feb. 1998.
  • (5) No Author. "Argentina: The Slow Battle for Justice". The Economist. Buenos Aires. 14 Sept. 2006
  • (6) Osiel, Mark J. "Constructing Subversion in Argentina's Dirty War". Representations. No. 75 (summer 2001). pp. 119-158. Web. 26 Mar. 2010.
  • (7) Guest, Iain. "Behind the Dissapearances: Argentina's Dirty War Against Human Rights and the United Nations". University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. 1990.
  • (8) Hillman, Richard S. "Understanding Contemporary Latin America: 3rd edition". Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc, Colorado. 2005.

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