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Guatemala - Military Personnel

For 36 years, Guatemala was the scene of an internal armed conflict, which concluded with the signing of the Agreement of Firm and Lasting Peace between the Government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in 1996. Guatemala bean to increase its army, to about 25,000 troops, in a process that began in January 2012 when President Otto Fernando Prez Molina took power. Prez Molina retired from the Guatemalan military in 2000 after a long career, earning the highest military honor by receiving the Cross of the Guatemalan Military. Prior to retiring, he was head of the Guatemalan Delegation to the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington, DC. In 1996, Prez Molina was named inspector general of the military. He represented the military during the Guatemalan peace process.

All male citizens between the ages of 18 and 50 are eligible for military service; in practice, most of the force is volunteer, however, a selective draft system is employed, resulting in a small portion of 17-21 year-olds conscripted. Conscript service obligation varies from 1 to 2 years. Women can serve as officers.

The 1994 Global Human Rights Accord requires the government to pass new legislation on military service, which is to be non-discriminatory and pay due regard to human rights. New legislation was believed by many to be essential for the ending of human rights violations which have taken place in the context of forced recruitment. The Global Human Rights Accord stipulated that enlistment into the armed forces is to be voluntary until new laws on military service have been passed. This requirement was reiterated in art. 33 of the 1996 agreement between the government and the URNG. Nevertheless the old legislation on military service seemed never to have been officially repealed. Under the 1988 conscription law (Ley Constitutiva del Ejercito), Title 4 art. 68-78) all men aged 18 to 30 are liable for 30 months' military service. Under this law temporary or permanent exemption is possible for medical reasons, election candidates and clergy.

The Civic Service Act, Decree No. 20-2003 of the Congress of the Republic in which it is established that the civic service is An activity of a personal nature, to which every citizen or citizen is entitled, for the given time, this service comprises two modalities: military service; And social service, running on an optional basis. In this legislation, it is established that it is the duty of every citizen to register with the Citizen's Registry within six months after the date on which they have reached the age of 18 (majority of age), the registrar will report to the National Civil Service Board, in the course of the month of June of each year. This "Ley de Servicio Civico Nacional" requires young people to join the work of civic and military service. And although it is assumed that there will be a remuneration, it remains to be seen what kind of pay is. About 11,500 young people in Guatemala between the ages of 18 and 24, must complete 728 hours of Civic Service in military or social tasks. The volunteers should perform this service in a span of six to seven months with an eight-hour workday.

As of March 2010, the army numbered around 16,100 troops, having gone well beyond its accord-mandated target of reducing its strength from 50,000 to 33,000 troops. President Colom increased the cap on troop levels to 20,000. Not only was this reduction the most profound transformation of any Central American military in the last 50 years, it also indicates the effective control the civilian government has over the military. President Berger tasked the Ministry of Defense with increasing the professional skills of all soldiers, but military budgets remained limited and troop levels fell as far as 15,500. As part of the army downsizing, the operational structure of 19 military zones was eliminated. By 2010 there were 6 brigades with contiguous areas of responsibility throughout the country. The air force operates three main air bases; the navy had two primary port bases. Additionally, steps had been taken to redefine the military's mission--the military doctrine has been rewritten, and there has been an increase in cooperation with civil society to help bring about this reform.

The real seed of drug trafficking survived and flourished during the period when peace was being constructed in the region. The demobilization of large military contingents in Guatemala included the Interior Police, responsible for controlling contraband smuggling along land borders, and the Mobile Military Police, an elite unit that provided security services to private companies. The failure to insert these groups into productive post-conflict activities left an army of unemployed security service workers. Many were recruited by Colombian criminal organizations, and later Mexican groups, in need of protection and operatives.

The security system also suffered at the hands of military intelligence officers who had been forced out of the army for misconduct and then joined the new National Civil Police (Polica Nacional Civil). Altogether, there was a mix of three factors: unemployed soldiers; a police force overtaken by corrupt officers; and Colombian criminal organizations with "visas" to conduct business with the leaders of local security forces.

In 1871 the Armed Forces were institutionalized and practically recognized as an institution in the service of the State of Guatemala and consequently remain as guarantors of the wealth of landowners and all those who hold economic and political power. Military Recruitment is also institutionalized, although it had different modalities in different periods.

The size of the armed forces rose from 9,000 officers and men in 1963 to 14,000 in 1979, and the total strength had risen to 29,000 in early 1983. Total army strength in early 1983 was estimated at 27,000 out of about 29,000 for the overall armed forces. An unconfirmed estimate placed army conscript strength at 10,000 to 12,000.

During the 36 years of war that ended in 1996, forced military recruitment was a common practice for both the National Army and guerrilla groups concentrated in the URNG. Both the official report of the Commission for Historical Clarification, created under the Peace Accords, and reports by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and indigenous movements, such as the Guatemalan National Widow Coordinator (CONAVIGUA), give That during the time of the internal armed conflict 45 per cent of the male population had been recruited at one point in their life by one or another of the parties to the conflict and that 20 per cent were minors. At the end of the internal armed conflict, more than 3,000 guerrillas from the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) participated in reintegration programs. It is estimated that of these, 214 were minors.

At the beginning of the 1980s, there was a national coverage based on a deployment that, with the available means, allowed sufficient units to be located, in a prudent time and according to the needs. Within a few years, in terms of quantity, the troops changed from being a force of more than 54,000 to 46,900 riflemen. This amount served as a reference to determine the reduction of the Army of Guatemala after the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords, in which a budget reduction of 33% was also established.

The Army complied with the accord-mandated one-third reduction in authorized strength and met the quantitative target by December 1997. Although the army kept virtually all of its officers and specialists, it trimmed its overall size by 33 percent, as agreed, and reduced its force structure by 15,477 positions from an official count of 46,900 troops in 1996 to 31,423 the following year.

This reduction meant for the Army to remain with a force of 31,423 fighters and with a budget of 0.66% in relation to the GDP. These human and financial resource capacities would be sufficient if the Army's mission had been established within the framework of external security, for which the role of the Armed Forces in the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala should be modified. However, in the 1999 Popular Consultation Guatemalans did not approve such reforms to the constitution, so the Army's role continues to encompass both internal and external security, but now with a non-perceptible gap between state power versus new threats or possible risks.

The situation was further aggravated by the decrease of the number of troops to 15,500 and a budget of less than 0.33% in relation to GDP, which meant a reduction of more than 50% of what was established in the Peace Accords. 6 Parallel to this, the presence of security threats increased, now no ideological mobile but with similar manifestations and taking advantage of spaces devoid of authority. The State continued to employ soldiers but did not restore their capabilities, increasingly depleting the useful life of armaments and equipment, and thus, the sizing of units.

Of the approximately 1.8 million Guatemalan males included in the 15- to 49-year age-group in 1981, almost 1.2 million were considered fit for military service. About 82,000 males reached age 18 annually, at which time they were considered eligible for conscription. Because of the numbers available, there has been no problem maintaining the desired strength. Women do not serve in the active armed forces. In the early 1980s there continued to be a quarterly call-up of conscripts, who usually served 30 months, their branch of service depending on their qualifications.

Because more long-term personnel chose to stay in the armed forces during the 1970s and early 1980s, the number of conscripts called up annually dropped to perhaps only 5,000 to 6,000; almost certainly the bulk of these were assigned to infantry units. The Fundamental Statute of Government requires that all male citizens "render military service in accordance with the law." Because only a fraction of those eligible are conscripted for service, most citizens escape fulfilling an obligation that has traditionally been looked on as onerous. In the past, including the recent past of the Lucas Garcia regime, the burden of conscript service fell most heavily on the Indian population. Ladinos also served, but more often than not, except for the very poor, they escaped conscription through various exemptions and deferments. The conscription system, particularly as it pertained to Indians, has been notoriously brutal; in most cases the unfortunates "chosen" to serve were rounded up in the streets by press-gangs.

In the June 2, 1982, issue of the Christian Century, Donald T. Fox, referring to the army's relationship with the Indian population, said that "the army's method of conscription in the Indian territory has long been a problem. In order to fill the muster, the army sends trucks to pick up able-bodied men and brings them to training camps in the southwithout notifying their families." An article in America of October 30, 1982, by Edward and Donna W. Brett, in referring to the draft system, states that "the government, to meet its quota of conscripts, often rounds up Indian boys who happen to be on the streets, forcing them into the army." The students caught in these dragnets were in grades seven to 12, indicating that the military was interested in numbers rather than the age or maturity of the prospective soldiers. Nevertheless, if their teachers protested to the local military authorities, the students were usually released. An anthropologist visiting Quiche in March 1983 talked to two soldiers who claimed to be 13 and 14 years old. The system hardly seemed designed to engender good feelings in the new soldiers or in the Indian population as a whole.

The system that remained in effect in the 1980s provided that conscripts were called up four times a year. The selection process and the administering of physical examinations were supervised by the commander of the reserves in each department. Conscripts were sent to recruit training centers where they received basic military training, weapons familiarization, and physical fitness drills. Another important aspect of the training at this stage was instruction in the Spanish language given to most Indian conscripts who know only their own languages and also to illiterate ladinos. Language instruction was continued by the Army Literacy Department after conscripts had been assigned to units.

The Guatemalan officer corps had traditionally limited the importance of noncommissioned officers (NCOs), fearing the possible establishment of a rival power base. Reenlistments were held to a minimum, pay was minimal, and promotions were rare. Few NCOs progressed beyond the rank of corporal. As weapons and equipment advanced in complexity and counterinsurgency operations continued, the need for NCOs became greater, and the officers were forced to change the system. Reenlistments were then encouraged (particularly among ladino conscripts), pay scales were raised to become competitive with civilian jobs, and other perquisites were offered to retain qualified personnel.

A strong sense of loyalty and camaraderie has developed among graduates of the military academy, the Escuela Polytecnica (Polytechnical School), the officer corps has developed its professionalism over the years, but it has not become a-political indeed the very idea of an apolitical officer corps would probably be alien to its members. Officers consider the corps to be elite, that is, one of the educated and politically aware segments of society, and as such they consider entry into the political arena to be a natural function of someone of their status.

The State of Guatemala is a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict since May 2002. One of the important measures that took effect immediately after the peace was signed in 1996, was the order of the then President of the Republic, Ramiro De Len Carpio who, as Commander General of the Army, issued an express order not to allow for any reason or reason the incorporation of children under 18 years of age into the ranks of the army, even if they volunteered. In compliance with the order, The then Minister of National Defense, issued an internal order to all the military commands of the country, to make effective the presidential order. Since that date, the provision has remained in force and we can therefore ensure that there is currently no provision or practice that is considered systematic within the State with respect to the participation of minors under the age of 18 in the military.

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Page last modified: 11-08-2017 14:54:44 ZULU