By Julie López
The militarization of national security we address in this report is not one in which the military leadership tries to grasp control of national security. This is a more versatile but not less damaging type of militarization. It involves constant military intervention in national security matters to weaken the civilian administration of security, particularly in the National Civilian Police (PNC). Advisers lead this process of internal weakening as well as military officials -on duty or retired- in the Ministry of the Interior and in civilian intelligence offices. The weakening efforts also occured through the militarization of police practices and strategies.
The type of militarization in this report is not one in which the military leadership tries to control national security but one in which the military’s constant intervention in national security matters lends itself to anomalous management of funds or responds to external economic or political interests and is promoted by them. It is not meant to safeguard the integrity of citizens or contribute to real solutions.
Greater military use in citizen security operations also responds to external economic or political interests. It is promoted by them and does not contribute to real solutions. These practices are so deeply ingrained in the country that we will not use the term "remilitarization" in this chapter because militarization never stopped.
The two situations that make militarization even more evident are (1) situations of social conflict due to border problems, opposition to extractivism (mining), and human rights violations related to monocultures (bananas, African palm) and land usurpation and evictions, among other reasons; and (2) peaks of insecurity due to gang or drug traffic related violence.
The history of the states of exception in the country, and the indiscriminate use of military force during the national armed conflict (1960-1996), shows that this measure does not solve the underlying problems. States of exception simply silence social demands; they do not solve any needs, especially the victim is criminalized. Moreover, results are usually short-term in the case of criminal violence or organized crime. The violence decreases during the state of exception only to come back later.
The current administration of President Alejandro Giammattei is the one that has used the most states of exception. While the average has been one per year in administrations over the past ten years, the current standard is three per year since the start of the administration in 2020. Four were mandated due to insecurity, delinquency, or organized crime, and the remaining three were due to social conflict. The inability to generate intelligence for prevention strategies, and to solve the underlying problems, feeds the need for the army to come in and reduce crime and social conflict—even if this is a short-term measure. That has been the tactic of civilian and military governments for the past 70 years. Since the 1950s, militarization is not an end in itself but a means of social control to defend national and foreign actors' economic and political interests, even at the expense of violating the human rights of vulnerable populations. Militarization is also a tool for accessing funds without any accountability.
In the 1950s, the Army bowed to the political (the narrative of the fight against communism) and economic interests (the agrarian reform and the land expropriation from Guatemala's United Fruit Company during the administration of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, overthrown in 1954) by the United States, with whom Guatemala had an ongoing relationship of influence based on political alliances since the second decade of the twentieth century.
The army was involved in a professionalization and modernization process until the decade of the "democratic revolutionary governments" between 1944-1954 (Arévalo, 2021: 128). A key component was the blackmail against the Guatemalan military by the U.S. in April 1954, when the armies in Nicaragua and Honduras received weapons and equipment and conditioned aid to Guatemala to overthrow President Arbenz (seen as a dangerous communist in the region). By July of that year, the blackmail had worked, and his government had been overthrown.
Subsequent military administrations put Canadian mining companies' interests before indigenous communities' rights. El Estor, Izabal, is a prime example of that. This practice is currently held in that municipality and many others, using military and police resources to defend the interests of local and foreign companies, even when civilians govern the state. The government also uses state institutions to criminalize victims.
The signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, and the Agreement to Strengthen Civilian Power and the Role of the Army in a Democratic Society, sought precisely that strengthening. A clause in the agreement opened the door to the use of military forces when civilian forces were overwhelmed. The problem is that this is a normal occurrence in the country and that the agreement did not give rise to the legal reforms needed to strengthen Civilian authorities.
Militarization always contributes to undermining public institutions to the detriment of democracy. That includes the growing presence of retired military officers in public office. Although they look to satisfy their interests, they have also weakened civilian power. Their influence depends entirely on the Executive branch and on the political parties that include them in their lists of candidates for delegations in Congress. Moreover, due to a lack of action by the Executive branch and Congress, the weaknesses in the Civilian Service Law allow the placement of former military personnel in office, jobs for which they have no experience.
Scientist Bernardo Arévalo mentions that the military is not the only institution to blame but also civilian governments. "The fluctuation in the share of military participation in national security in the last 25 years can be better explained by the inconsistency and incoherence of civilian authorities than by sustained institutional pressure from the military" (Arévalo, 2021: 137). In some governments, it has been a calculated decision not to have a joint government with military leadership.
This chapter shows the current situation in the field, what factors have historically influenced militarization, and which are the most significant repercussions based on personal interviews, official documents, and bibliographic and newspaper research, as well as journalistic coverage since the mid-1990s. Inquiries were made to the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, the General Directorate of Civilian Intelligence (Digici), and the Secretariat of Strategic Intelligence (SIE), which did not respond to requests for interviews or information.