Eyewitness to the secret wars in Mexico and Central America

Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

Mexico and Guatemala

One Summer In Mexico – Part 25

This is ALL that I can to tell you about the report.

Beginning with my one week stay in the State of Michoacán in July 1970, I was involved periodically with activities, not directly related to the study of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. It is inevitable that some readers will start looking at calendars and start questioning what I was doing on “blank” days between Points A and B.  Well, I am going to describe the general situation back then, but nothing that would reveal locations of intelligence assets or identify contemporary individuals. The only exception is Cancun, which was then a small, sleepy Maya village and now contains about a million people.

First, let me say that I cringe when I see anyone treating Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Che Guevara as “heroes of the people.”  They betrayed the Cuban Revolution and in fact, murdered off most of the Cuban heroes, who led the actual fighting, which drove dictator Juan Batista out of Cuba.  Fidel Castro was initially considered a hero in the United States. With so much good will going for him in so many countries, he could have easily created a democratic, egalitarian state, modeled after those in Scandinavia, with no-strings attached financial & technical aid coming in from many democratic countries.  Instead, he created a soviet-style dictatorship, which stoked his enormous ego. 

The Soviet Union propped up the Castro regime and then expected the blood of Cuban youth to seed a legion of insurrections around the Americas and Africa.  The primary targets were initially Mexico and Central America.  The Spanish had bequeathed their colonies have and have not societies and dysfunctional political traditions.  The Soviet Union hoped to lure the United States into involvement with dozens of Viet Nam-type wars, so that our economy would collapse from the massive military expenditures and constant return of caskets to the United States.

Repeatedly,  manipulation or direct intervention by powerful economic interests in the United States had worsened the situation in the 20th century.  These potentates wanted to make all of Latin America like what they had done to the South after the American Civil War . . .  make them chronically impoverished and under-educated economic colonies of American Capitalism.

Che Guevara planted the seeds of disenchantment in Mexico during the 1960s, while making numerous visits there. There is little doubt that the CIA obliged Guevara’s wildest aspirations by having a major “behind the scenes” involvement with the massacre of students at Tlatelolco Square in August 1968. During the early years of the Luis Echeverria administration (1970-1976) major insurrections broke out in many of the Mexican states, south of Mexico City. 

There is also no doubt that another Vietnam would have occurred in Mexico by the late 1970s, had not the price of crude oil skyrocketed after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.  The government of Mexico owned Petromex (now PEMEX), so much of the increased profits went into infrastructure improvements, which created large numbers of jobs in rural areas.  The sudden rise of the standard of living quelled interest by the general population in violent revolution.  

Meanwhile, Guatemala was in chaos with seven guerilla armies, the regular army and an army of assassins funded by the United Fruit Company and some wealthy Guatemalans.  It was impossible for me to get into most parts of Guatemala because of the constant ambushes, fire fights and sabotage of the infrastructure in rural areas.  One had to take a guarded package tour bus just to reach Tikal.

The Nixon Administration put pressure on the three US TV networks not to report the insurrections to the south, because Nixon was trying to get us out of Vietnam.  Vast quantities of surplus war materials were shipped from Vietnam to Mexico and Guatemala without Congress’s knowledge.  Mexican and Guatemalan assassination squads were trained by Green Berets at Fort Benning, GA. 

Apparently, Teresa, the lovely Cubana, who trained me in the arts of love one weekend in December 1969, was arrested the next week at the Fort Benning facility, which trained assassins.  In May 1970 the leader of M-13 in Guatemala, Marco Antonio Yon Sosa, was killed by Mexican Border Police (trained at Fort Benning) when he crossed into Chiapas State, Mexico.  M13 had begun as a non-political rebellion by disgruntled Guatemalan officers and enlisted men. After US Army and USAF personnel participated in attacks on M-13 with US bombers and Green Berets, Sosa was able to turn the organization into a Maoist force. The USAF decals on the bombers had been painted over to make them appear to be Guatemalan Air Force planes.  

People in the United States are notoriously ignorant about other nations and international history.  The top echelon of the Nixon Administration was no exception.   However, Richard Nixon was well-educated and quite intelligent.  The problem was that cronies of the military-industrial complex were misrepresenting the situation in Mesoamerica.  He initially was led to believe that all the guerillas in Mexico and Guatemala were fanatical Marxists.  He seemed to have no clue that it was the United States government and North American companies, in particular, United Fruit, that had created the nightmare in Central America.  He was basing his policies on that assumption and was about to drag the US into another Vietnam, but on a much larger scale.

This might come as a surprise to many people, but for the past 50 years,  high ranking admirals and generals in the United States have been broader educated than our top elected officials . . . with the exception of Annapolis graduate, Jimmy Carter.  These military leaders were aware of the true cause of unrest in Mesoamerica.  They requested fresh, more objective intelligence on the situations in Mexico and Guatemala.   It had been found repeatedly that well-educated Southerners got along much better with Latin Americans than people from other parts of the United States.  Their rapport was especially enhanced if their heritage was part Native American. 

What I can share from my report

1.  Almost all the insurgents in Guatemala, Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo were ethnic Mayas with very little interest in traditional Marxism, but major hatred of the dominate regimes.  Most of the insurgents in Michoacán, Oaxaca, Guerrero were former university students or trade unionists, who had friends or relatives killed in the Tlatelolco or Politecnico Massacres in 1968. They had clustered around small cells of Marxists, who had direct ties with Cuba.  

2.  Since the first day that the Spanish Conquistadors entered that region, the Mayas had tried to resist the invaders.  That war of liberation had continued into the 20th century.  It is NOT Marxist oriented.

3.  The Maya people are highly intelligent.  They love the people of the United States and Canada. They hate their Spanish-speaking masters.  My Maya guide for northern Yucatan gave me a 50% discount in return for teaching his two teenage kids the basics of English.  He said that he and his people dreamed of the day when they would never have to speak another word of Spanish.

4. The people of the Yucatan Peninsula never wanted to be part of Mexico.  They formed a confederated nation with the Republic of Texas, which lasted until the British Navy chased away the Texas navy – hoping to seize the peninsula to make a joint colony with British Honduras.   On three occasions in the 19th century, the leaders of the Yucatan Peninsula petitioned the US Congress for annexation into the United States and eventual statehood.

5. The unrest and occasional attacks on military personnel in Michoacán, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, Veracruz and Tabasco are a direct result of the vast theft of indigenous lands by wealthy Mexican families. These land seizures are protected by a crooked judiciary, controlled by PRI.  The  families are clearing their new ranches of trees and Indians, then establishing large cattle herds.  Most of their beef production becomes the hamburgers sold in the fast food restaurants and supermarkets of the United States, in particular,  McDonalds and Burger King.

6.  I met with representatives of the FLN near Isla de Las Mujeres in a little Maya village called Cancun.  The government in Mexico City has announced plans to expand Cancun into a major resort. No names were given and my camera was held by them until I left.  The National Libertarian Force (FLN) was founded in August 1969.   They didn’t say so, but I suspect they were founded by people, who survived the Tlatelolco Square Massacre.  They were very friendly to me. All of them could carry on a conversation in English – two of them fluently.  Of course, as you hoped, they just assumed that I was a mixed blood Indian architecture student, studying ancient Mexico.  

They never said anything critical of the United States government.  They did say that the US should not get involved in their “People’s Uprising.”   My guess is that they are Democratic Socialists.  They had nothing good to say for Castro, but they hate Luis Echeverria with a passion.  They were not armed and we never discussed their military strategy.  Most of the conversation was about ways to adapt wind and solar energy devices to Maya villages.   Very frankly, I would have never known that they were insurgents, if you had not told me so.  

7. The situation in Guatemala is so complex and bloody, no simple solution can be found for peace. I was told that there are not many (true) Marxist guerillas in Guatemala . . . maybe as few as 200 or less.   That civil war has been getting steadily more violent since 1960.  It was originally caused by the United States.  The Guatemalan military deeply resented the training of Free Cuban forces in Guatemala, the creation of a “Free Cuban” Air Force Base composed of USAF B-26 bombers and the fact that the Bay of Pigs Invasion was launched from sovereign Guatemalan  soil.  People in Guatemala tell me that the President of Guatemala was bribed millions of dollars to allow that training and air force base.  It was the sole cause of the original uprising, not Marxism.  True Marxists have only become involved in recent years.  What happens is that a band of say 10-15 guerillas attack a police car or a truck load of soldiers.  The Guatemalan Army reacts by killing dozens of Maya farm families.

8.  The new <redacted> guerilla army in Guatemala that you asked me to investigate is not Marxist!  In fact, it has absolutely no connection to Cuba, the USSR or Red China.  It’s funding and munitions are coming from Roman Catholics in the United States, Quebec and Ireland.   Stolen British guns and explosives are being shipped to them by the Irish Republican Army.  They are also receiving stolen weapons with US Army serial numbers.  Roman Catholic priests, lay brothers and nuns are directly involved in their operation. I saw this first hand at a Maryknoll Mission in <Remainder of paragraph redacted.>

All the Roman Catholic priests have Maya wives and mixed-blood children.  Two French Canadian nuns run the hospital, which is about 100 m from the mission.  They sleep together in the same bed. One is a doctor.  The other is a nurse.  They are training teenage Maya girls to be professional nurses.  They let the girls sleep with their guerilla boyfriends.  There is a civilian hospital and then an underground military hospital with a hidden entrance.  The hospital is well equipped.  I saw French names on some of the equipment.  The generator was from Germany.

Mother arrives at daughter’s hanging body, murdered by a death squad

What happened later

The only time that I have been inside a battle was on my third trip to Mexico, when I was following a Mexican army convoy <for safety> in the State of Guerrero.   It was ambushed by a large guerilla force. Jeeps and personal carriers were blown up by rockets and left in flames.  There were lots of bodies laying on the ground, but no mention of this battle was in the US news media.

The Mexican government used a strategy, similar to that used by Red China, to end the secessionist mentality of the states in the Yucatan Peninsula. Petroleum profits were pumped into the peninsula to create many economic opportunities for all classes of Mexican society. Both Soto girls ended up in Cancun, as did Alicia eventually. By the late 1980’s, the newcomers out-numbered the locals. Most politicians, sympathetic to the Mayas, were voted out of office.

During the mid-and-late 1970s, most of the student/trade union insurgents in Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca were either killed or captured.  Most of the deaths occurred as night-time abductions from homes and executions at garbage dumps. Beginning in 1970, bodies of former female students, involved with the insurrectionists and current left-wing female students at the national university [UNAM] (minus their dresses and underwear) were found hanging from bridges and trees near the university.  I think the murdering of female college students by federal police death squads was one of the reasons that Alicia was frantic to get out of Mexico.   In the meantime, the vast wealth pouring in from petroleum exports greatly reduced unrest in southern Mexico.

I knew the real reason that the nuns had been murdered, but had signed a 20 year non-disclosure agreement.

On December 2, 1980, four Maryknoll missionaries from the United States working in El Salvador were raped and murdered by five members of the El Salvador National Guard.  I knew there was more to the story than the news media knew, but had to stay absolutely silent or face time in a federal prison.  I couldn’t even tell my wife about my knowledge of Maryknoll association with guerilla activities or the apparently common practice of the nuns in remote locations sleeping with each other.  Personally, I didn’t see anything wrong with that, but the violation of Catholic traditions was probably why the soldiers were so brutal.

The Reagan Administration (1980-1988) reversed the policies of the Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations. All insurgencies in Central America were labeled “Communist.”  Somewhere between one and two million Native Americans died in Central America, during his terms in office.   Vast quantities of war materials became available to all of the Central American nations except Nicaragua and Panama.  Just like in Mexico, assassination squads that were trained at Fort Benning ,GA struck villages at night.  From the beginning the Mayas claimed that the squad accidentally killed innocent people, because of misidentification.  However, by 1985 assassination squads armed and trained by the US Army, were regularly murdering groups of non-combatants as a terror tactic.

In 1994, the FLN took heavy casualties in a battle with the Mexican army at a location near where I attended a wedding feast.  The survivors moved south and founded the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. It fought the Mexican Army to a standoff, so since then the Zapatistas have controlled a large section of the State of Chiapas. That’s the only section of Mexico now where it is safe to travel alone. 

Zapatista women always wear black or red ski masks in public.

The Zapatistas never composed a national army and are now focused on concerns of the Maya People.  They regularly travel to other areas of Mexico to promote environmental concerns and national self-sufficiency.  At the end of August 2019, they announced the expansion of EZLN into 11 more districts. In response, President Lopez Obrador stated that this expansion was welcome, provided it was done without violence.  After all,  crime is practically non-existent in Zapatista-controlled areas.  No violence occurred and recently the Mexican army withdrew from Chiapas.

Brutal military campaigns, heavily funded by the  Reagan Administration, occurred in several Central American nations.   In total, at least two million Indigenous Americans in Central and South America were killed during the Reagan Era, perhaps 3 million, since about a million died in Guatemala alone.  

Zapatista men

The George H. Bush Administration took a different approach to bringing peace in Central America.  Insurgents were offered amnesty and cash bounties furnished by the US to surrender their arms.  Former guerillas were offered jobs in the Southeastern United States where the locals were generally much friendlier to Latin Americans.  

About 20 years ago, I befriended a US Army “secret” officer, who had a story similar to mine. He went from graduating from the University of Georgia directly to supervising the transportation of former guerillas in non-stop bus trips from El Salvador and Honduras to poultry plants in Georgia.  He never wore a uniform and never was an active duty officer. He went from that assignment to being a CIA officer in Bosnia!

Bush opened up the immigration from Mexico and Central America. Mexico is thriving, but Central America’s economy and democracy never recovered from the decades of bloodshed.  The murder rate in Honduras climbed to the highest rate in the world.  Poverty and crime are now endemic in Central America.  This is why in 2018 an army of asylum seekers marched through Central America and Mexico to reach the U.S. Border.  They knew that the United States had played a major role in their nation’s misery and thought the US should take responsibility for its actions.  A certain elected leader suddenly had no memory of the late 20th century and the chronically history-clueless masses in the United States said, “Amen!”

Long live Zapata ~ the Fight Continues


  1. I had no idea this was going on, especially while in the Air Force during Vietnam 71-75. Being 19 with no interest in politics, just married the year before I joined, I only wanted to complete my enlistment and be with my wife.
    Since I’m nearing 70, this article puts things in a better perspective historically.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I certainly would not have not known either had not I been there. There was virtually no mention of Central or South America in the curriculum taught US Navy Midshipmen. Think how little news we get today from South American countries. You wouldn’t know that they existed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right, I’ll have to do a little news search to see what’s going on down there. I haven’t heard anything about Venezuela in a while, those poor people down there couldn’t even buy toilet paper a while back.


  2. Richard, a depressing article. “Congratulation!!! Your going to Disney world”…I keep hearing at the Expensive Super bowl game. The American Government people are doing their best watching the borders…but those that want your vote “the good old boys clubs”… keep allowing the “say hello to my little friends” to bring more drugs…that many in the 60’s-70’s-80’s-90’s just loved. You would think after 9-11 American people would have demanded the drug border be closed down.

    A new import has arrived: A 2-3 inch long Hornet from Asia…. “And they have tails like scorpions, and stings. And in their tails is their authority to harm men five months.” “And they have over them a sovereign, the messenger of the pit of the deep, whose name in Heḇrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apolluon.” P.S. The 180,000 demons were reported in Spain….didn’t make it to primetime News…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the latest thing down there is that we were involved in yet another violent attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of Nicaragua. The attempt failed yet again.


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