The next day, the embassy fired off its analysis that the Guatemalan government was the victim of a communist-inspired "disinformation campaign." Dated Oct. 22, 1982, the analysis concluded "that a concerted disinformation campaign is being waged in the U.S. against the Guatemalan government by groups supporting the communist insurgency in Guatemala."
The Reagan administration's report claimed that "conscientious human rights and church organizations," including Amnesty International, had been duped by the communists and "may not fully appreciate that they are being utilized. " The campaign's object is simple: to deny the Guatemalan army the weapons and equipment needed from the U.S. to defeat the guerrillas. ...
"If those promoting such disinformation can convince the Congress, through the usual opinion-makers -- the media, church and human rights groups -- that the present GOG [government of Guatemala] is guilty of gross human rights violations they know that the Congress will refuse Guatemala the military assistance it needs. Those backing the communist insurgency are betting on an application, or rather misapplication, of human rights policy so as to damage the GOG and assist themselves."
Hailing the Dictator
Reagan personally joined this P.R. campaign seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately on human rights crimes that the administration knew, all to well, were true. On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as "totally dedicated to democracy" and added that Rios Montt's government had been "getting a bum rap" on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Maya villages being eradicated.
On Jan. 6, 1983, Rios Montt was informed that the United States would resume military sales to Guatemala. The dictator expressed his thanks, according to a cable from the U.S. Embassy, "saying that he had been convinced that the USG had never abandoned Guatemala. He commented that the guerrillas in country and its propaganda machine abroad would now launch concerted attacks on both governments."
On Jan. 7, 1983, Reagan formally lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations. Radios, batteries and battery charges were also in the package.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government's cover-up of the Guatemalan bloodshed continued. State Department spokesman John Hughes said political violence in Guatemalan cities had "declined dramatically" and that rural conditions had improved too.
In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in "suspect right-wing violence" with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt's order to the "Archivos" in October to "apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit."
Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. "The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year" 1982, the report stated.
A different picture -- far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government -- was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.
New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out "virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents."
Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were "thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed." [AP, March 17, 1983]
Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised "positive changes" in Rios Montt's government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.
Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan's national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.
On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert "Bud" McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes's Israeli channels, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast."]