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Guatemala: The Kaibiles as Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Kaibiles are soldiers in the Guatemalan Army that undergo a specialized, yet controversial training at a school in the northern part of the country, nicknamed “Hell”. Many Guatemalans reject the abusive training that the Kabiles receive, which some say, closely resembles self-inflicted torture. It is often difficult to fathom why such methods are necessary, as described by blogger Statchka [es] when he details “Black Week of a Kaibil”. He explains that they are even forced to drink animals blood to survive.

One point of their decalogue had been: “The Kaibil is a killing machine.” In the past, many of the soldiers have been involved in counter-insurgency operations, but also some have been accused of human-rights violations, but now they are mainly involved with anti-crime duties. In addition, the Kabiles have also been sent as Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 72 Guatemalans are currently on the front line in the city of Goma. Here is an Institutional Video regarding the mission in the DRC.

Due to their training instructions, Patrick from GNS Blog pointed out, such a mandate of Peace seems in conflict with their motto:

After all, the infamous Kaibil creed of: "If I go forward, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I turn back, kill me", seems to kind of jar with the traditional peacekeeper approach.

An admirer of the Kabiles, Perspectiva Militar [es], who is also a member of the Guatemalan Army detailed the training that takes place before the mission in the Congo or wherever else they might go. He explained the process of sending the Kaibiles to the Special UN Forces and how they say goodbye to their families, on his blog post Kaibiles to the DRC in Africa [es]. Here they have faced dangers, as in 2006, 8 of them died in an armed operations in the DRC [es].

Many wonder why members of the Guatemalan army, who have historically had a poor reputation in the area of human rights, are now being considered for the role of peacekeepers. As the situation in the DRC is going from bad to worse, where human rights abuses like rape has been used as a weapon, the Kabiles are still being sent to the front line. The Kabiles come from a country that face a similar war-like setting, where women suffer the consequences of past and present conflicts. However, Journalist Allan Nairn is optimistic about the peacekeeping mission and pointed out on his blog that the new surroundings can alter behavior, and it differs greatly from political killings:

The other night a Mayan survivor remarked that there are Kaibiles in the Congo. They're a special unit of US-trained Guatemalan troops officially called "The Messengers of Death," but he noted that recently eight of them were ambushed and died themselves in that faraway land.

The poor Kaibil killers must not have known what hit them, since, on the road, away from home, they were in the Congo under actual legal constraint, as peacekeeping troops of the United Nations. It's a similar story with Indonesian troops, now deployed as UN peacekeepers in Lebanon. Back home, unbound by law, they kill civilians, but, away — where that would cause problems — such behavior is banned, and, generally, despite their past record, they don't go around murdering people (rape is another matter; its a problem of men in armies most everywhere, and UN troop assignments vary: In Haiti, it has included repression).

It's not the man, its the mission. Political killers are not killing machines. They are human components of killing machines, and if the machine setting is switched from "kill" to "don't kill," as trained people, they do tend to comply.

But why are members of the Guatemalan Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Albedrío [es] may have the answer:

El tema de fondo es que los soldados guatemaltecos están siendo utilizados para ir a las zonas de mas peligro porque, de acuerdo con múltiples fuentes de información, se les considera con experiencia y baratos, como sus homólogos salvadoreños. En pocas palabras, en la actualidad Guatemala exporta soldados cuasi mercenarios para las guerras que los países beneficiarios de la explotación de las riquezas naturales no quieren asumir. Los beneficios si, los costos humanos y políticos no.

The underlying issue is that Guatemalan soldiers are being used to go the most dangerous areas because, according to multiple sources of information, they are considered to be experienced and cheap, like their Salvadoran counterparts. In other words, Guatemala exports quasi-mercenary soldiers for wars that countries that are benefiting from the exploitation of natural resources do not want to take on. The benefits yes, the human and political costs, no.

Thumbnail picture by Riacale


  • Kaibiles are indeed killing machines. The Kaibil training course is en essence a method to dehumanize normal human beings. Having said that, I don´t think it´s their fault to exist. The Guatemalan government (or any other government for that matter) should not train people to become psychologically detached murdering machines, this should be against international law. In addition, the Kaibiles are simply not trained for peacekeeping, I really don´t understand the logic behind sending them to Congo. Not even when justifying it on the cheapness of a third-world soldier´s life.

  • […] Global Voices – The Kaibiles are soldiers in the Guatemalan Army that undergo a specialized, yet controversial training at a school in the northern part of the country, nicknamed “Hell”. Many Guatemalans reject the abusive training that the Kabiles receive, which some say, closely resembles self-inflicted torture. It is often difficult to fathom why such methods are necessary, as described by blogger Statchka [es] when he details “Black Week of a Kaibil”. He explains that they are even forced to drink animals blood to survive. […]

  • Es paradojico verdad!
    Personalmente tengo muy malas memorias de los Kaibiles.
    Creo que es parte de los acuerdo de cooperacion firmados como parte del proceso de Paz, Guatemala recibe derivado de eso bastante cooperacion internacional.
    Se podrian mandar estudiantes de Tesis o recien Graduados en Medicina mas que todo…Pero si ni si quiera quieren ir a Huehuetenango…
    Creo que la colaboracion con otro contexto que sufre los embates del fraticidio y la Guerra es no solo necesaria sino obligacion moral…Para algo tienen que servir esos cabritos…

  • Is the spelling Kaibiles or kabiles? Just checking.

  • guatemalteco

    Even though the kaibil is without a doubt trained to kill without emotion or remorse, they are not without morals. They are taught to do w/e is necessay in order to complete their mission, however they use a machiavellan aproach, the end justifies the means. They are world renowned soldiers for their toughness, skill, survival capacities, and effectivness. However I personally have met and known some former kaibil soldier, who are now bodyguards for people who I know. They can deffinitely “turn off” the “killing mode” just as easily (or just as hard), as any other soldier in the world and live as ordinary people in any society.
    The reason as to why they are being sent to places such as the Congo is because the people they are fighting do not follow human rights and commit immense cruelties, thus one needs special forces who are both physically and psycologically capable of fighting such armies.

    • oscar

      how have they proved their toughness.skill.survival capacities.and effectiveness ? against unarmed maya women and chidren and old men

  • swaneagle

    I find it absurd that anyone who is brutalized beyond imagination to become among the most ruthless killers ever known can turn off killing mode to be “ordinary citizens”! Given the level cruelty brought home to their families by US military veterans, it is no wonder that violence at home and every damn where else simply escalates. The crimes committed by the Kaibiles, disemboweling pregnant women their hallmark, have no archeological precedent in Mayan culture. This kind of crime is emerging in the Congo and given that UN Peacekeepers have been accused of “facilitating” some of the mass rapes there, one cannot help but wonder just how many of their killing ways they continue using. I find Allan Nairn’s minimization of how dangerous these guys truly are to be utterly astounding. Has bothered me for several years. No reply when i contacted him. Shocking, really. I also find his comments that minimize rape deeply disturbing. These comments of his will haunt me always. It is shameful.

  • paul

    it’s only the value judgement of the guatamalan people that counts. not white liberals from usa or england

  • swaneagle

    Well, oddly enough, i have certainly talked to Guatemalan people about the horrific crimes of the Kaibiles. Seems that paul has no more value for the oppressed Indigenous than the genocidal government of the US and it’s puppet dictators. As Kaibiles enter the global awareness due to the convictions in the Dos Erres massacres, perhaps SOMEONE with more voice than i have or for that matter, more voice than Indigenous Guatemalans, will shine a light on the horrors of the UN hiring death squads as so called Peacekeepers in the Congo.

  • […] African nation since the country’s contingent began operating in 2000. The Kaibiles have been part of MONUSCO since […]

  • […] The Kabilies are also currently part of the UN peacekeeping mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Remember Kony? No, not Vladimir Putin’s pet labrador. I’m talking about that guy the internet really didn’t like that one time. That nasty child-abducting warlord. Well, him and the Kaibiles dont get along so well either. […]

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