GUATEMALA CITY – The U.S. government this week gave the Guatemalan Army a shipment of modern military and communications equipment, marking the first such aid package since Washington imposed a ban on arms shipments to the Central American nation more than 25 years ago.
The equipment was turned over to the army during a ceremony at a base in southern Guatemala City attended by President Oscar Berger, Defense Minister Francisco Bermúdez and U.S. Ambassador James M. Derham.
The U.S. Congress had banned arms sales to Guatemala in response to the human rights violations committed by government forces during the country’s 1960-1996 civil war.
The ban was lifted earlier this year after a visit to Guatemala by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“The support of the United States is not accidental, they have seen that this is a different army, professional,” Berger said in an address at the ceremony to thank Washington.
The shipment, worth some $1.6 million, includes generators, backpacks, boots, sleeping bags, binoculars, helmets and ponchos.
The United States is also providing the Guatemalan Army with compasses, GPS equipment and communications gear, among other items.
A February 1998 report by Guatemala’s Truth Commission, which investigated human rights violations committed during the 36-year civil war, said 200,000 people were killed and more than 50,000 disappeared in the conflict.
Some 96% of the rights violations, according to the commission, were committed by the army and the rest by leftist guerrillas.
With a population in those days of slightly more than 11 million, the number of deaths and disappearances per capita in this Central American nation far outstripped the more publicized cases of rampant rights abuse in other countries such as Argentina or Chile.