Clinton stops CIA aid to Guatemala intelligence unit

President Bill Clinton yesterday stopped CIA funding of a Guatemalan intelligence unit suspected of human rights abuses. But that move alone will not stop the spreading scandal here over US links with Guatemala's repressive military and police, alleged to have killed or tortured almost two dozen Americans over the last two decades.

Long overshadowed by the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, Guatemala is emerging as another shabby showcase of clandestine US involvement with some of the most brutal regimes of the hemisphere - conducted either in the ignorance of elected policy-makers or with their deliberate connivance.

Yesterday's announcement by the White House seems more a case of injured embarrassment than calculated cover-up. According to officials, Mr Clinton ordered a halt to covert CIA operations in Guatemala in 1993, but - apparently unbeknown to him - funding, at least for the intelligence unit, continued.

Another top official kept in the dark was the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who assured a television interviewer on Sunday that "there's no money going down there now". Only when Mr Christopher's aides found out the true situation was the White House informed, leading to yesterday's presidential order. In the meantime, on Capitol Hill and in the US media, the "Guatemalan connection" has assumed a life of its own.

For years, there has been no mystery about human rights atrocities in Guatemala, but the charges suddenly gained new force last month with claims that a Guatemalan army colonel, a paid informer of the CIA, was responsible for the torture and killing of an American inn-keeper in 1990, and two years later of a left-wing rebel leader married to an American lawyer.

It is further claimed that the US army and the National Security Agency, specialising in electronic eavesdropping, may also have known of Colonel Roberto Alpirez and shredded documents which might have incriminated him. Amid public anger over the death of Michael DeVine, the innkeeper, in 1990, the Bush administration halted direct military aid to Guatemala, but instead secretly channelled up to $7m (£4.4m) a year to the government there through the CIA.

Now new horror stories are emerging - most lately of Sister Dianne Ortiz, an American nun who was raped, tortured and almost killed by Guatemalan police in 1989, two years after she had arrived in the country to teach poor children. She is convinced the US government tried to cover its tracks by orchestrating a "smear campaign" against her, to "avoid admission of its involvement in these crimes". And after Mr Clinton last week ordered the CIA's independent supervisory board to investigate the allegations, the Senate opens its own hearings into the atrocities, at which Jennifer Harbury, the Harvard-educated widow of Efraim Bamaca Velasquez, the murdered guerrilla leader, will be among the witnesses.

For all the sinister machinations on display, the occasion is unlikely to become another Iran-Contra spectacular, not least because a Republican Congress will not want to probe too deeply into misdeeds mainly committed under Republican presidents, from Gerald Ford to George Bush. Republicans, moreover, are temperamentally less inclined to see the CIA as the root of every evil on the planet.

But Democrats are on the offensive, and the House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, will be hard-pressed to protect the demoralised CIA from another public humiliation, after the Aldrich Ames spy affair and its admission of sexual discrimination against women employees.

The new charges against Colonel Alpirez were aired by Robert Torricelli, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Mr Gingrich accuses Mr Torricelli of leaking information given to the committee. To which the latter retorted that Mr Gingrich's remarks indicated "a stronger allegiance to the CIA than to the truth".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all