Terror and Guerilla Warfare in Latin America

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<p>Terror and Guerrilla Warfare in Latin America, 1956-1970 Author(s): Timothy P. Wickham-Crowley Source: Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Apr., 1990), pp. 201-237 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/178913 Accessed: 18/11/2008 01:42Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=cup. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p> <p>Cambridge University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Comparative Studies in Society and History.</p> <p>http://www.jstor.org</p> <p>Terror and Guerrilla Warfare in Latin America, 1956-1970TIMOTHY P. WICKHAM-CROWLEY Georgetown University will Now is the timewhenterror be usedagainst peasants bothsides,butwith the by different objectives. --Che Guevara' Most of the extraordinarywaves of terror which have swept many Latin American societies since 1970 have occurredin guerrilla-basedinsurgencies or even civil wars. Because of the massive body counts producedduringthese and confrontationsbetween revolutionaries counterrevolutionaries based in or linked with a government, human rights organizationshave issued a long series of reportsabout terror-especially that which has been carriedout by incumbentregimes and death squads-and which has been supplementedby the expos6s of the guerrillasthemselves. Amnesty International,the Human Rights group in the Organizationof American States (OAS), and Americas Watch have been the major internationalactors documenting the wave of terror. Many independentnational groups, such as El Salvador's "Socorro Juridico" and other human rights organizationslinked with church bodies have undertakenthat more perilous task at home. Terroragainst the civilian populationdid not begin twenty years ago, as it had pervadedthe insurgenciesof the 1950s and 1960s throughout LatinAmerica as well. The "bone-heaps" of the earlier wave of terrordo not match those of the later surge in size, to be sure, and I will try to accountfor those differences later in this paper. Nonetheless, the very obscurityof the earlier terror morally and intellectually compels us to address it. The earlier Latin American guerrillastruggles-more so than the "Prolonged PopularWars" of characteristic guerrillawarfaresince 1970-were "Wars in the Shadows," as one authorput it,2 and the time has come to bring light to those shadows, lest they be forgotten. even thoughmany sources My purposehere is not solely historiographical, here are known to and employed by the few chroniclers of these events;I Emesto "Che" Guevara, The CompleteBolivian Diaries of Che Guevara and Other Captured Documents, Daniel James, ed. (New York: Stein and Day, 1968), s.v. "End of May, 1967." 2 RobertAsprey, Warin the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, 2 vols. (GardenCity, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975). 0010-4175/90/2120-0596 $5.00 ? 1990 Society for ComparativeStudy of Society and History 201</p> <p>202</p> <p>TIMOTHY</p> <p>P.</p> <p>WICKHAM-CROWLEY</p> <p>instead, my aim, which is ultimatelyboth sociological and theoretical, is to employ the informationthatwe can retrieveaboutguerrillawarfarein orderto arrive at a better understanding the causes, concomitants, and natureof of terror in guerrilla wars. As Robert Merton has cautioned us, we should be quite sure, however, that we are accounting for facts, not their deceptive counterparts,before we seek to explain any social phenomenon. Since so much of the reportingon terroris ideologically freightedand tendentious,that caution will carry special weight herein. I will reporton six cases here:(1) Fidel Castro'sown insurgencyagainstthe Batista regime from 1956 to 1959, which began with a boat landing in the Oriente Province and ended with a triumphalmarch into Havana;(2) The Venezuelan insurgencyof the Communist-backed Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), and the Movement of the RevolutionaryLeft (MIR), against elected Acci6n Democrdticagovernmentsin the 1960s; (3) the Guatemalan insurgencyof the 1960s, involving the Communists(PGT) and one or of two-there was fission and refusionhere-guerrilla groups, the Thirteenth November RevolutionaryMovement (MR-13) and the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR); (4) three different Colombian insurgentgroups posing revolutionary challenges to the coalition National Front governments in the 1960s: the Moscow-linked Colombian RevolutionaryArmed Forces (FARC); the Castroist Army of National Liberation(ELN); and the Maoist Army of Popular Liberation (EPL). All four of the preceding guerrilla movements secured substantialpeasant supportin their areas of operationduringthe insurgency. The remainingtwo nationsexperiencedinsurgenciesin which the guerrillas secured at best moderate(and at worst no) supportfrom regionalpeasantries: (5) Peru, in which two left-wing political splinter groups unleashed four simultaneous focos (guerrillabands) in the Andes in 1965 againstthe elected of FernandoBelaundeTerry:the MIR (Movementof the Revolugovernment tionaryLeft) and the ELN (Army of NationalLiberation)(all four were eliminated in less than a year); (6) finally, therewas Che Guevara'sfoco in eastern Bolivia, which providedat best a weak challenge to the popularlyelected and peasant-supportedregime of General Rene Barrientos. At the end of the insurgency, in October 1967, Guevarawas wounded,captured,and killed.RECOUNTING THE TERROR</p> <p>Government Terror</p> <p>We will consider terror to be certain acts forbidden by the rules of war. Among these are: (1) beating, killing, robbing, bombingor otherassaultson a civilian population, including relatively unusualitems such as forced relocation; (2) beating, torturing, or killing or combatantswho have indicated a willingness to surrender;(3) the use of weapons which do not sufficiently discriminateamong combatantsand others. Such weapons include germ war-</p> <p>TERROR,</p> <p>GUERRILLA</p> <p>WARFARE</p> <p>IN LATIN</p> <p>AMERICA</p> <p>203</p> <p>fare, nuclear weapons, and punji stakes. The latter were used by the Viet Cong in Indochina, where a high percentageof casualties were the result of people falling into pits filled with these sharpened, dung-covered stakes.3 First, some preliminaryconceptualdistinctionsmay help us to sort out the empirical accounts to follow in our analysis. Eugene Victor Walterhas done the yeoman work in developing a systematic theory of terror. Walter distinguishes between a regime of terror(by a government)and a siege of terror (by the opposition to a government).Eitherof these encompassesthe process of terror, which has three distinct elements: (1) the violent act itself; (2) the victim of the violent act; and (3) the targetof the violent act. This last element is fundamentalto any system of terror,for the basic aim of terroris not to kill individuals but to frighten entire social groups.4 Under these criteria, the Cubanpeople certainly sufferedintensive terrorfrom 1953 to 1958, although the extent has been overestimatedby Fidelistas. Hubermanand Sweezy apparentlyfirst gave the total of 20,000 deaths duringthe Cuban insurrection, which was a figure that they attributedto Castro. This numberwas quickly converted-a typical occurrence in the building of revolutionary mythology-into the killing of 20,000 innocent civilians by Batista.s These figures appearto have no factual basis, and there is good reason to lower the total numberof deaths by a factor of ten. A list of the war dead publishedin Bohemia on 11 January1959 (after Castro's victory) counted 898 dead, with over half of these being combatants. These figures exclude the deaths of peasants, which probablynumberedseveral hundred.6Estimatesof hundreds or perhapsabout a thousanddeaths due to Batista's terrorare also supported by comments made by Fidel Castro and other Batista critics during the war is itself.7 The figure of 20,000 apparently a giganticballoon blown up by antiBatista emotions. Batista's terror was especially evidenced by the faithfully fulfilled "no prisoners" rule. Following the Moncadaattackof 26 July 1953, Castrohimself was only saved from summaryexecution by a lieutenantwho knew him from the university. Later, both an attemptedlanding of guerrillareinforcements and a naval uprising at Cienfuegos in 1957 ended in the same fashion:3 See James E. Bond, The Rules of Riot: Internal Conflict and the Laws of War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974), for a full discussion of the rules of war and possible applicability to guerrilla warfare. 4 Eugene Victor Walter, Terror and Resistance (New York: Oxford, 1969), Chs. 1, 2. For some less formal observations about the social functions of terror, see Rogger Mercado, Las Guerrillasdel Peru (Lima:Fondo de CulturaPopular, 1967), 160-1, and H6ctorB6jar, "Ne pas surestimerses forces," Partisans (Paris), 38 (July-September 1967), 111. 5 Leo Hubermanand Paul Sweezy, "Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution," MonthlyReview, 12 (July-August 1960), 29. 6 Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (New York: Harperand Row, 1971), 1044; Boris Goldenberg, The Cuban Revolutionand Latin America (New York: Praeger, 1965), 144. 7 Fidel Castro Ruz, RevolutionaryStruggle: Vol. 1 of The Selected Works Fidel Castro, of Rolando E. Bonachea and Nelson P. Vald6s, eds. (Cambridge,Mass.: Massachusetts Instituteof Technology Press, 1972), 375, 399; Thomas, Cuba, 972, 999.</p> <p>204</p> <p>TIMOTHY P. WICKHAM-CROWLEY</p> <p>All those who surrendered were shot on the spot.8 Batistalackedthe airpower with which to inflict severe casualtiesupon the SierraMaestrapeasantry,but deaths did result from his bombing of the region. These are, however, unimportant relative to the number of deaths caused by direct troop attacks on peasants. Many of these attacks did not even have the pretext of seeking were afraidto go into the information,as those armyunits whose commanders guerrilla zones would simply attack peasant villages on the outskirtsof the zone and then report the number of "guerrillas" killed. One particularly brutalofficer in the Sierra Maestraregion, Lt. Casillas, who literally drove the peasantryfrom the village of Palma Mocha, kept humanears in a box to show to visitors.9 Batista took a small page from the book of strategy by Spanish General Weyler during Cuba's War for Independencein the 1890s, when he, Batista, also forced the evacuationof several hundredSierraMaestra peasants(Weyler's programhad aimed at 500,000 forced relocations).10 As in almost all of the cases underreview, much of the governmentterror took place as the torture of urban cadres, innocent victims, and peasants to transported town jails and prisons. Those who lived to tell such tales can was shown the extractedeye of her relate grisly stories. Hayd6e Santamaria brotherin an attemptto make her informon the M-26 (Castro'sTwenty-Sixth of July Movement) operationsin Santiagode Cuba.1 While we will usually restrict our examples to the terror that takes place in rural settings, these broaderaspects should be understood. The Venezuelancase providesus with a greatmany examples of terror,but the sheer numbershould not overly impressthe reader.Dead men indeed tell no tales, and the high survivalrateof Venezuelanguerrillashas led to a fairly extensive literatureof interviews and memoirs. The exceptional numberof surviving guerrillas suggests that terror against guerrilla combatantsthemselves was considerablymore muted than in Cuba, even though it was still common against the peasantryduring army sweeps throughguerrillazones. An author very unfriendly to the governments of Romulo Betancourt (1959-64) and Raul Leoni (1964-69) accuses them of causing "more than 200" peasantdeaths due to such tactics,; while anotherhostile source claims that more than 1,000 persons were killed overall under Betancourtalone, suggesting again a very strong imbalance in favor of urbanterror.The vast bulk of the slayings of the peasants-a variety of sources would place the numberbetween 100 and 300-were in the states of Falcon and Lara.128 Ram6n L. Bonachea and Marta San Martin, The Cuban Insurrection, 1952-1959 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1974), 134-7, 151-2. 9 Bonachea and San Martin,The CubanInsurrection,270, 192, 276; GiinterMaschke, Kritik des Guerillero (Frankfurt,Germany:S. Fischer, 1973), 85; Thomas, Cuba, 920. 10 Thomas, Cuba, 335; Ram6n BarquinL6pez, Las Luchas Guerrilleras en Cuba, 2 vols. (Madrid:Plaza Mayor, 1975), vol. 1, 14-15; Newsweek, 17 June 1957, 60. 11 Such tales can be told only when thereare survivors.This and other stories can be found in Carlos Franqui,The Twelve (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1968). 12 Luigi Valsalice, Guerriglia e Politica: L'esempio del Venezuela(Florence, Italy: Valmar-</p> <p>TERROR, GUERRILLA</p> <p>WARFARE IN LATIN AMERICA</p> <p>205</p> <p>Guerrillazones were bombed regularlyin Venezuela, usually just before the armybegan sweeps or encirclementcampaignsin the regions. While some of the peasantsallegedly died in such bombings, evidence is fragmentary. The army would at times force the evacuation of the peasants from villages and then bomb the area. Luigi Valsalice describedsuch evacuationsas "more or less voluntary."13An example of the latteris seen in the following talk given by an army officer in a village in Falc6n:All the peasants have to leave the area because we're going to bomb these lands. Whoever remains will be burnt to death. So get ready to leave, you old bastards.</p> <p>and later: Get Youworthless, it, you'reall guerrillas. outof here.We'regoingto burn to bombit.</p> <p>Valsalice also reports forced evacuations in Lara State.14 There is little doubt that torturetook place duringthe 1960s in Venezuelan prisons, especially that carried out by national police agents of DIGEPOL (General Directorate of Police), as occasional congressional investigations revealed. DIGEPOL's public reputation was so tarnished that President Rafael Caldera was forced to reorganize the agency after taking office in 1969.15 A torturesession might begin with a warningspeech such as the following delivered in a DIGEPO...</p>