Controversial Guatemalan video game seeking to boost army's image cancels its release

Illustration by Nelson Chen.

Story by Juan Calles for Prensa Comunitaria (Guatemala), edited and republished by Global Voices under a content sharing agreement.

The Guatemalan video game production company Yilsd, S.A. announced that, due to “terms and conditions,” the reception process in the cloud has been delayed, so the release of the new game “Yo Kaibil” has been postponed to a date yet to be confirmed.

Yilsd, S. A. created the video game for cell phones “Yo Kaibil,” whose main characters are inspired by the Guatemalan elite military unit known as Kaibil. During the launch last Saturday, July 23, people wearing uniforms and insignia that characterize the Kaibil came down from a helicopter. Female models dressed in military insignia were also present that day.

The next day, the Guatemalan Army published a statement in which it disassociated itself from the company and from anything related to the development of the video game. Also, it announced an investigation against the people who participated in the presentation using uniforms and insignia exclusive to the Guatemalan Army.

“The corresponding administrative process has been initiated to determine whether the game's launching involved military personnel using clothing for the exclusive use of the Army,” the statement reads.

Statement published by Guatemala's Army

Although the Army disassociated itself from the video game, it was the state entity Instituto Nacional de Estudios Estratégicos en Seguridad (which trains the human resources of the country's inter-institutional security framework) that issued the invitation for last Saturday's launch. It was signed by Hilarión Patal, a member of the Kaibil elite and currently commander of the military reserves in Chimaltenango, in southwestern Guatemala.

On the left, the INEES’ tweet inviting to the video game's launch, and, on the right, Hilarion Patal's profile.

Defending violence to make the military institution more “likeable”

For psychologist Cecilia Mejía, it is common to justify violence in Guatemala. She cites the death penalty debate, in which some sectors strove to show the need to use violence to stop violence.

“If we can now justify violence and aggression, imagine having them on top of the agenda and especially in a video game, which is supposed to be a form of entertainment for young people. It ratifies the violent and misogynist state in which we continue to live. It is maintaining a situation of violence,” she said.

After observing the dissemination of the video game “Yo Kaibil” on social networks, Mejía says that in a situation like the one currently being experienced in Guatemala, where justice is being coopted and where there are attempts to stop the criminal prosecution of members of the Army who committed abuses against the Guatemalan population, it is important for the institution to change its image, to have a different way of relating to younger generations.

Many major court cases are underway in Guatemala, where victims of the Civil War (1960–1996) are seeking justice in cases of crimes against humanity perpetrated by members of the military. In a Cold War context, Guatemala went through violent years where the government and the army tried to eradicate guerrilla members and committed massacres and genocide against peasant and indigenous communities.

“To rethink or create a new image of this institution, to make it friendlier or more accessible to young people, but also to normalize violence to combat social ills, is to maintain the status quo,” concluded the psychologist.

Photo of the launch “Yo Kaibil”. Photo by El Enchufle

A company connected to military officers accused of war crimes

According to the Centro de Medios Independientes, a group of independent media outlets, the legal representatives of the company that developed the video game have family ties to the military. The legal representative Edgar René Búcaro Nowell is the husband of Guisella Alejandra Sosa Gordillo, granddaughter of General Luis Francisco Gordillo. He was prosecuted in the Molina Theissen case, where a 14-year-old boy was disappeared by the military in 1981 because his family was considered “subversive.”

Sosa Gordillo is also the daughter of Colonel Mario Sosa Orellana, linked to the case of the disappearance of the indigenous peasant and guerrilla member Efraín Bámaca. He was also a member of the same graduating class as Toribio Acevedo, one of those accused of belonging to a clandestine structure that disappeared political dissidents between 1983 and 1985, and who were registered in a military intelligence document known as Diario Militar.

Another legal representative is Edgar René Búcaro Nowell, who was a lawyer for Russian citizen Viktor Lupin, a member of the law firm that offered the Bitkov family identification documents, citizenship and protection in Guatemala. Also appearing as a legal representative is Maynor Javier de León Gómez, accused in 2019 of money laundering.

The Kaibil school and its dark history

In his doctoral thesis, “Los pelotones de la muerte. The construction of the perpetrators of the Guatemalan genocide“(The death squads. The making of the perpetrators of the Guatemalan genocide), sociologist Manolo Vela explains that the creation of the Kaibil School has its origin in the counterinsurgency struggle in 1965, after several attempts to create a school of special commandos. The agreement creating the Kaibil School was signed in 1975.

The Guatemalan military, after drawing on similar experiences from Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and the United States, and specifically from the School of the Americas (a military training center for torture techniques and psychological operations), created its own school of special commandos, taking the name of the Mayan warrior Kayb'il B'alam, the sociologist says.

Twenty years following the signing of peace accords in Guatemala, several members of the Kaibil School — such as former president Otto Pérez Molina, former congressman Estuardo Galdámez, intelligence officer Byron Lima Oliva and former Minister of the Interior Mauricio López Bonilla — have been involved in cases of state corruption, money laundering, drug trafficking and murder.

Alfonso Bulux, a former member of a Kaibil patrol, is currently on trial, accused of having participated in the massacre of the Dos Erres community in 1982. The extreme cruelty with which this elite corps of the Army acted was revealed during the trial. They are accused of raping women and girls in front of the community as a form of torture, then murdering members of the community one by one by throwing them into a well which they then destroyed with grenades. The patrol's actual mission was to recover 21 rifles that were never found in the community.

Additionally, different investigations and press publications have documented the involvement of Guatemalan Army-trained members of the Kaibil force who become hired assassins for drug trafficking groups in Guatemala and Mexico.

After the announcement of the video game on social media, many people reacted strongly. They also questioned the quality of the graphics and pointed out the Caucasian appearance of the characters. Hundreds of comments included photographs of Kaibiles who later played a role as politicians or public officials, including that of former President Jimmy Morales, who was appointed Kaibil without going through any military course.

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