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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot