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


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