Mon, May 13, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Past with Guatemala must be probed

By Colin Alexander

“Through his leadership role in the Latin American Anti-Communist Confederation and the World Anti-Communist League, Sandoval made numerous trips to Taiwan, where he was feted by Kuomintang [KMT] leaders. Quietly, Guatemalan officers, an estimated fifty to seventy, were sent to Taiwan to receive training in political warfare,” they wrote in the book. “The courses at Peitou [sic], which were taught in Spanish, met Guatemalan educational requirements for military advancement; majors that went to Taiwan returned as Lieutenant Colonels. Even as their Guatemalan armed forces salaries continued, Taiwan picked up most, if not all, of the air fare and living expenses while they were in Taiwan.”

In the years after 1974, an increasing number of Guatemalan officers went to Taiwan, Taiwanese political warfare manuals became commonplace on the bookshelves of Guatemalan military personnel and Taiwan began holding military training courses in Guatemala on ideology, counterinsurgency, political warfare and information extraction techniques. As such, the Guatemalan death squads who executed their government’s genocidal policies were at least partly trained by the Taiwanese. It was the then-Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) repressive model of governance that was appealing and insightful to the ideologically similar authoritarian regimes in Central America who were keen to consolidate their own power base, and the ROC was increasingly keen to help these regimes as it found itself more and more diplomatically isolated.

Taiwan was not the only country to provide military assistance to Guatemala during its armed conflict; the US, Israel and Argentina were notable others, and no one is accusing Taiwan of participating actively in the war. However, Taiwan’s refusal to comply with the UN commission set up at the end of the conflict should be seen as indicative of the sensitivity of the information that would have been revealed on the role that it played. Taiwan and Guatemala have made extensive political and structural reforms since this period, yet much of the information pertaining to this era remains classified in Taiwan.

The conviction of Rios Montt by a Guatemalan court goes someway toward the country’s reconciliation with its past, so perhaps the time has now come for Taiwan to conduct a full and frank investigation into its own relationships with some of the 20th century’s most controversial regimes.

Colin Alexander is a Ministry of Foreign Affairs international research fellow. His research focuses on Taiwan’s international relations with its remaining diplomatic allies.

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