Wednesday, 20 January 2010

So Cadburys has thrown in the towel. The company board has recommended the latest £11.7 billion takeover from US conglomerate, Kraft, after one of the bitterest takeover battles in recent corporate history. What this demonstrates clearer than ever is that global financial interests now wholly dictate the fates of millions of workers and can ignore governments at will. It begs the question of why we elect national governments if they are prepared to abrogate their role of acting in the country’s interest. This takeover should also kick-start the old debate over the susceptibility of British industry to foreign takeovers. It also demonstrates that this government has learned nothing from the recent banking debacle: until the big financial institutions are properly challenged by government and brought under state control, we will remain helpless in the face of these rapacious monsters.
Despite some resistance from Cadbury’s board to the initial offer, Kraft was able to persuade large institutional shareholders to accept their increased bid. Unite says that this increased bid, an estimated £12 billion, and the continued exclusion of workers and key shareholders from the takeover consultation, means its concerns for Cadbury's future and the future of nearly 7,000 workers in the UK and Ireland remain.
Cadbury, the iconic chocolate firm started by the eponymous Quaker family in Birmingham around 186 years ago, apparently gave way after Franklin Templeton, the US mutual fund with a 7% stake, joined hedge funds in revealing that it would accept the higher Kraft offer equivalent to 850p a share.
Professor David Bailey from Coventry University Business School in a recent issue of the Birmingham Post points out that, ‘more than a quarter of Cadbury shares are now held by hedge funds which bought the shares to make a fast profit in a takeover situation. That effectively undermined long-term shareholder commitment.’
Cadbury now joins the long list of British firms gobbled up by foreign takeovers, from BAA, Boots, Corus, ICI, Jaguar Land Rover, P&O, Pilkington, Scottish Power etc.
Despite Mandelson’s belated crocodile tears for the company and its workers, the government is effectively powerless to act once a takeover has been agreed. The Blair government removed the 'public interest' clause of UK competition policy regarding takeovers in 2000. This had given governments the power to block takeovers that threatened jobs, the national economy or essential regional development etc, but Stephen Byers the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry thought that was all too-interventionist. EU legislation has also made it increasingly difficult for national governments to intervene to protect national interests. So, after disarming itself of even the modest weaponry it had, the government is now impotent to act.
Unite warned that as many as 30,000 jobs could be put at risk by the deal, with Kraft facing the need to service over £20 billion in debt after the takeover. Analysts predict that Kraft will be seeking to generate up to $1 billion in savings through mass redundancies and restructuring, Unite says Kraft must give commitments on a set of minimum employment protections, including no compulsory redundancies and protections for the workers' terms and pensions. However these are unlikely to be given, as the real reason behind the takeover is precisely to shed jobs, divest assets and pull in the cash. Unite also underlines this by pointing to Kraft's aggressive track record on cost-cutting, shedding some 19,000 jobs between 2004 and 2008 and closing 35 plants.
With the role of hedge funds highlighted in the Cadbury case, there will be questions about whether they should be stripped of voting rights in future takeover situations if they have bought in during a takeover situation and have held shares for, say, less than a year. However the lobbying power of these hedge fund companies makes this very unlikely. And of course such takeovers rarely work; the majority of deals waste shareholder value and lead to huge disruption - and that's before considering the wider social and economic damage.
The people who really make money out of takeovers are the investment bankers. The Cadbury takeover will generate a fees bonanza in London and New York, with advisors at Lazard (lead advisor to Kraft during the whole affair), Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and UBS making around £120 million. Cadbury’s financial adviser, UBS also stands to make a killing on the deal.
These financial advisers and consultants are the real beneficiaries of such takeovers. The Cadbury workers have no say in all of this, anymore than the British electorate does.
Jennie Formby, Unite's national officer for food and drink, said: "We have very real fears about how Kraft will repay its debt, particularly as it has ratcheted it up still further in order to purchase Cadbury. Whatever good intentions Kraft may have towards Cadbury's workforce, the sad truth is there will be an irresistible imperative to pay down their debt, and this raises real fears for jobs and investment in this country.
"There are huge lessons to be learned from this takeover for UK business. Short-term City interests and institutional shareholders have dictated this process from the outset with little thought to the impact this sale will have on jobs, the supply chain or Cadbury's future. Unless our takeover regulations are changed, there is nothing the government or employees can do to prevent this happening again to another UK company.”

Monday, 11 January 2010

11 January 2009
Dear Sir (Guardian)
Surely no coincidence, with energy supplies low and pressures to build a new generation of nuclear power stations increasing, that a new attempt is launched to belittle the dangers of radiation. (Radiation threat overstated – Oxford professor; Guardian 11 January). The problem with radiation, like other forms of ‘invisible’ pollution, is the difficulty of accurately measuring individual doses over a lifetime. What none of the so-called experts takes into consideration is that we are no talking simply of radiation from external sources, but also about radiation caused by ingested radioactive elements – a far more serious threat. The terrible consequences of ingesting radioactive dust have been extensively documented in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia where the US and Britain used depleted uranium weaponry. The radioactive dangers from nuclear testing in the fifties and sixties came from ingested Caesium-137 and Strontium-90. Animals at the top of the food chain, like humans, tend to accumulate such elements in their tissue and this is what constitutes the greatest danger. Any increase in the amount of radioactive material in the atmosphere is potentially very dangerous. If the nuclear industry can guarantee that won’t happen, then it would be a different ball game.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Return to family values is way out of crisis say the Tories
You can always rely on the Tories to blame anyone and anything for a systemic crisis, other than the system of capitalism itself. In the Victorian era it was the rabbit-like sexual promiscuity of the working classes undermining bourgeois stability, under Thatcher it was feckless single mothers getting pregnant to obtain a council house. Now we have the new leader, David Cameron, pointing the finger at family breakdown as the cause of the malaise in society.
Cameron was mildly criticised recently for allowing television cameras to film his wife and children at breakfast. Like a genuine hard-working father, he could say: "Everyone feels they can't cope any more with getting up at 4am. Everyone runs around in a panic in the morning getting the kids ready while making breakfast and ironing a shirt."
He went on: "I know what some of you might be thinking: 'All this family-friendly stuff he's going on about, it's not really very Conservative, is it?” But it is, “It's seriously Conservative. If we Conservatives want a smaller state and lower taxes we have to have a serious plan for making it happen...The real costs of government are the social problems that cause public spending and the state to grow and grow." He then cleverly wove together the repugnant example of bankers’ greed with the small guy fiddling a few pounds from the benefit system, as if they are the same, saying that the culture of relying on others and thinking only of oneself "must end".
In a speech to the Welsh Conservative conference in Cardiff, he expanded on his new ‘family-friendly policies: "We've seen too many of the ugly things that happen when people duck responsibility: the father who leaves a mother and child to fend for themselves, the banker who clamours for his bonus when he's bust the bank. The healthy welfare claimant who thinks it's OK to live off benefits paid by others or the businessman who puts profits before the planet. All this irresponsibility must end. Families are the most important institution in our society. We have to do everything in our power to strengthen them." His short memory allows him to forget the attacks made by previous Tory administrations on benefits, the virtual abolition of council housing and state aid for nurseries, all prime contributing factors to social breakdown.
As if that were not enough, we then had Tristram Hunt in the Guardian wading in and taking a side-swipe at the left for its traditional ‘hostility to family and marriage’ which has, he announces, produced ‘some profoundly unprogressive results’. It was because the Tories and Labour had similar policies, he continues, that there was a ‘reaction to such institutionalised sexism that many on the metropolitan left embraced a Marxist hostility to marriage and the family as a political end in doing so it aligned itself with an ethos of social hedonism with profoundly unprogressive consequences for the offspring of generations of unstable households.’ No that’s not a Cameron quote, it’s Hunt.
Throughout history the socialist movement has always had its advocates of ‘free love’ and relationships based on personal choice rather than state or church sanction. However, extreme examples of this – communal living, children cared for in the community, polygamy – have always only been advocated by tiny minorities. What most socialists, men and women, have argued for has been freedom from state or church interference in matters of personal relationships and for relationships to be based on free choice not financial necessity. People choosing to live in a partnership or not should not be subject to sanction or force. To sweepingly accuse ‘the Left’ of hostility to marriage is simply inaccurate and hardly based on historical evidence.
As Engels pointed out for the first time in his seminal work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, the oppression and subjugation of women came about and was reinforced by the rise of the concept of private property. In order for fathers to pass on their wealth to their children, they had to be sure they whose they were, thus women were corralled into restrictive family structures to ensure monogamy. Of course, the church played its part too in providing the philosophical and religious underpinning of such policies. In the sixties, the new feminist movement took up Engels’ theories and used them to demand economic and personal freedom for women.
Interestingly in the former socialist countries, although marriage was the norm, sexual relationships outside formal marriage were not condemned, nor was illegitimacy, and divorce was made easy and affordable; in fact many chose to ignore formal marriage structures and neither they, nor their children suffered any discrimination as a result. Given that most women worked and enjoyed pay parity with men, the situation allowed women a greater degree of freedom than most of their sisters in the West. Women in the West had been traditionally, and still are, often trapped in unhappy marriages for lack of the financial means to escape.
In the end the essential discussion on family and marriage comes down to economic security. Cameron and the Tories pontificate about social breakdown and blame the Left’s opposition to ‘family values’, but it is precisely Tory (and sadly new Labour often following in their footsteps) policies which have made family breakdown inevitable. Any marriage counsellor will tell you that financial problems are the root cause of a large proportion of family breakdowns. We can be certain that Cameron’s new interest in and support for families will not include better state benefits, help for single parents or a continuation of Labour’s excellent Sure Start schemes, but these are the sort of policies which will prevent family breakdown not rhetorical appeals to ‘traditional values’.

John Green
The bearers of dreams

All prophecies tell us
That man will be the cause of his own destruction
But the centuries and life which is eternally renewed
Engender, too, generations of lovers and dreamers
Men and women who don’t dream
Of the world’s destruction
But of building a world of butterflies and nightingales
Since childhood they came marked by love
Behind their everyday appearance
They guarded tenderness and the midnight sun
Their mothers found them weeping over a dead bird
And again much later
Found many of them dead like birds
They call them deluded, romantics, utopian dreamers
They say their words are out-dated
Those who accumulate wealth fear them
And launched their armies against them
The bearers of dreams spoke of an era of butterflies and nightingales
In which the world doesn’t have to end in a suicidal sacrifice
And, on the contrary, scientists would design fountains, gardens, enchanting toys
To make human happiness even more pleasurable
They say that the earth after giving birth to them unleashed a rainbow sky
And blew fecundity over the trees’ roots
We alone know that we have seen them
We know that life brought them forth to guard itself against the death foretold in the prophecies.

Gioconda Belli
Poeta Nicaraguense
Todas las profecias cuentan
Que el hombre creará su propia destruccion
Pero los siglos y la vida que siempre se renueva
Engendraron también una generación de aniadores y soñadores
Hombres y mujeres que no soñaron con la destrucción del mundo
Sino con La construcción del mundo de las mariposas y los ruiseñores
Desde pequeños venian marcados por el amor
Detrás de su apariencia cotidiana
Guardaban la ternura y el sol de medianoche,
Sus madres Los encontraban llorando por un pájaro muerto
Y más tarde,
también los encontraron a muchos muertos como pájaros
Los llamaron ilusos, romanticos, pensadores de utopias.
Dijeron que sus palabras eran viejas
Los acumuladores de riquezas les temian
Y lanzaban sus ejércitos contra ellos
Los portadores de suenos hablaban de tiempos de mariposas y ruisenores
en que el mundo no tendria que terminar en la hecatombe
Y, por el contrario. los cientificos diseñarian fuentes, jardines, juguetes sorprendentes
Para hacer más gozosa La felicidad de la humanidad
Dicen que la tierra después de parirlos desencadenó un cielo de area iris
Y sopló de fecundidad las raices de los árboles
Nosotros solo sabemos que los hemos visto
Sabemos que la vida los engendró para protegerse de la muerte que anuncian las profecias.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Common Wealth
By Martin Large
Pubs Hawthorn Press
Hdbck. £15 (285pp)

This book is a valuable contribution to the discussion around the crisis of capitalism and the necessity of sustainable development if our planet is to survive. Martin Large is an experienced facilitator in the field of community, individual and organisational development, and he also has a wealth of experience working with and advising local community projects in his home town of Stroud in Gloucestershire. He argues forcefully for a view of the world which sees land and resources as ‘common wealth’. He says we have recently seen a new wave of ‘enclosures of common land’ in the sense that public property, water and energy and land, as well as rights to the human genome and life-saving drugs have all been handed over to private, profit-making companies. His book, he notes, ‘is about reclaiming our common wealth in order to help bring about a more free, peaceful, equitable, mutual and sustainable society’.

He is particularly informative when he writes about land ownership, arguing for a Community Land Trusteeship to overcome land speculation and housing shortages. In this wide-ranging volume, he also covers education, culture, the arms industry, the state and the key role of civil society. Much weight is given to local and community initiatives –where he has much first hand experience – and the potential of individual creativity.

Large clearly articulates the immense damage rampant neo-liberalism has done to the world, as well as the supporting role the media have played in ignoring the many positive examples of people taking their own initiatives to counter this domination and centralisation.

He likens society to a three-legged stool, whose legs are government, business and civil society. His main thesis is that ‘civil society’ should become a leading motor for change, challenging the over-domination of business interests and excessive and authoritarian government. However, what constitutes this ‘civil society’ is unclear (how, for instance, is it different from society as a whole?). The key role of economic class interests receives scant attention.

He fails to appreciate that capitalism (in his tri-polar metaphor referred to as ‘business’), whose very essence is profit-making, will always be antagonistic to the long-term public interest. And, as Marx and Engels so clearly articulated it, ‘contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction’. Tragically, today, we now have to recognise that ‘its own destruction’ undoubtedly means that of the planet too, unless we are able to act fast and decisively.

I am also surprised that the ideas of Britain’s most celebrated democrat, Tom Paine, receive no mention. Nor does Large see any mileage in evaluating the experience, both negative and positive, of ‘real existing’ socialism – which represented, after all, the first attempt at creating a ‘Common Wealth’ since the early communistic communities were destroyed by feudalism and later capitalism. Nor does he look at the newly emerging versions of socialism in Latin America.

Despite the above cavils, Common Wealth is a very useful, provocative and imaginative contribution to the central debate of our generation.
Product placement – why we should be worried
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw is not only putting increasing pressure on the BBC to share its licence fee income with the private companies, but is now proposing to lift the ban on ‘product placement’, in line with most other EU nations. Bradshaw argues that a partial lifting of the ban might help commercial broadcasters survive the downturn in advertising revenue. They are sniffing succcess at last after their long campaign for the deregulation of advertising.
This is yet another example of new Labour ministers bowing to big business pressure. With the continuing economic crisis, commercial TV companies have found their advertising revenues plummeting and are desperate to get their hands on BBC licence fee money but also have their hands untied to turn programmes into wholly advertising exercises. Should we be worried? Yes, certainly. Blurring the line between editorial content and commercial messages sets a very dangerous precedent and is not in the interests of the public or programme-makers. It would also damage any remaining trust there is in the integrity of journalists, broadcasters and film-makers.
One only needs to look at the USA to see how product placement has warped programme-making and unduly influenced film-makers. There, big commercial advertisers are even involved in the early stages of programme development, script-writing and editing to ensure the best and most effective placement of their products. To argue that such placement would not affect artistic creativity and freedom is a nonsense. Any creative artist or broadcaster who wishes to challenge their proposals should beware. Product placement only helps the big global players, as they are the only ones who can afford the high advertising fees. So we would have product placement for the likes of MacDonald’s, Coca Cola and other junk food producers as well as the big drinks and drug manufacturers. The arguments about the need to protect children, and excluding children’s programmes is spurious, as most children also watch adult programmes. The repercussions on health – obesity, alcoholism particularly – would be enormous. Sleight-of-hand product placement is, in reality, blatant propaganda and to pretend, as the apologists do, that it would have no affect on artistic creativity or influence programme content, is cynical obfuscation.
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned that allowing alcohol, gambling and unhealthy foods to be advertised through product placement will fuel obesity and alcohol abuse: 'The BMA is deeply concerned about the decision to allow any form of product placement in relation to alcohol, gambling and foods high in fat, sugar or salt as this will reduce the protection of young people from harmful marketing influences and adversely impact on public health,' the BMA said in a submission to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the plan. Oppostion is also coming from public health experts, scientists, broadcasters and the general public, but this government isn’t listening.
The fact that most advertisers insist on their products being advertised only on ‘family-friendly’ programmes or those with big viewing ratings also has enormous potential repercussions. It would leave minority programming, the arts, serious documentaries or political film-making out in the cold, as few advertises would be prepared to have their products associated with them as it could prove too controversial. We have already seen this process happening in the mad race for top viewing figures, s the only criterion of success. This seems to be the only factor that broadcasting managers and governments respond to.
I’m no uncritical admirer of the BBC, but you only need to look at those countries with no genuine public broadcasting system to see how standards plummet, with viewers offered only non-stop garbage. One of the reasons why the BBC’s output is much admired worldwide is that you can watch or listen to programmes unadulterated by ad-breaks.
Surely we have to challenge the commercialisation of the last free corners of our society? We already live in one where profitability, commercial success and cash criteria have come to dominate public policy. It is time we fought back and insisted on central social values such as caring, solidarity and a public service ethos be reinstated at the centre of government policy. A principled opposition to the further deregulation of advertising and a deeper commercial penetration of the media have to be a part of that fight-back.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Christian Lorenzen

Christian Lorenzen - confronting a legacy of official terror
In February last year, 18,000 Guatemalans, mostly survivors or relatives of victims of the state-sponsored terror of the 1970s and 1980s, gathered in Guatemala City, to commemorate the "Day of Dignity for the Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict." They heard President Alvaro Colom publicly accept the UN report that documented the terror. That report recorded that 200,000 people had been killed and 50,000 more ‘disappeared’ in that period. It defined the violence as genocide against the country's Maya majority, and it attributed 95% of the massacres and violations of human rights to Guatemala's armed forces. There are now hopeful signs that this genocide is being recognised by the Gutaemalan authorities, but sadly, killings are still taking place in this, the msot violent countries of Central America.

For the first time, a president has accepted the UN report and has honoured the victims of the conflict. Alvaro Colom, President of the Republic, said: “I ask for pardon." This marks a dramatic break from the past - a clear articulation of the government's responsibility for massive human rights violations, genocide, and ethnocide. It is also part of a broader programme promoted by Colom to recover Guatemala's historical memory and to begin offering symbolic and actual compensation to the victims of violence. The government has also opened the National Police Archives, announced plans to open the military archives, and promoted memorial events, conferences, and publications honouring victims. It has also overseen a controversial programme to compensate victims with funds and housing.
I have a personal interest in this process, as three close student friends were active in the struggle to overthrow the brutal oligarchy – all our now dead.
This is how ‘Porfiro, one of the local Maya jakalteco indigenous people, begs permission from the ‘Heart of heaven and earth’ to forgive us the injury we are about to inflict on the sacred soil and lights candles at the four cardinal points. Each of us expresses what we feel. Felipe speaks of the sacrifice and says that the comrades interred here gave their all for the goal of achieving a better form of society; Leonor explains to us that in the Mayan calendar today is symbolic for fire and death, and death represents the end of a cycle: the seed dies in order to give life to the plant. To find the remains of our comrades would allow us to close the endless circle of pain and uncertainty.

Around mid-morning, while we’re excavating, men from the nearby village of Pico de Oro arrive. They are understandably suspicious and wish to establish that we are in fact looking for the remains of relatives and not robbing the ancient site. They come armed with machetes and rifles and expressions of mistrust on their stony faces. After an intense conversation, we manage to assuage their fears.
At one end of the trench we dig, we come across carved stones, revealing that we are excavating in an area of an ancient Mayan settlement. By two o’clock we find the first fragments of bone wrapped in a plastic sheet. We soon recover a complete skull and then virtually the whole skeleton. Miguel, one of Christian’s close comrades, has no doubt the bones are Christian’s. We also find the remains of another comrade remembered only by his nom de guerre, Clemencio. This had been the burial place for comrades killed in action, among them, some of the first indigenous guerrilla fighters.”
That is a summary of the report I received recently via an old friend from the former GDR, from Christian’s son.
When I was studying at the national film school in the GDR in the late sixties my fellow students in the class were all from developing countries, a number from Latin America. They were learning how to make films, so that they could return to their homes to help document their peoples’ struggles for liberty and freedom from imperial domination.
One student who made a deep impression on me was a young Guatemalan comrade by the name of Christian Lorenzen. Unusual for Central Americans, he was over 6 ft tall, slim, handsome with dark curly hair and intense chestnut eyes. He was always exceedingly serious, very committed to his studies and not easily approachable. When I asked him about his unusual stature and name, he revealed that one of his great grandparents had come from Scandinavia.
I lost contact with Christian over the years and only this month did I learn the tragic reason why. Another friend and comrade was the renowned Guatemalan poet Rene Otto Castillo who was killed in action by the Guatemalan army, trained and armed by US and Israeli forces.
Christian, like Rene Otto, was one of those who were determined to dedicate his life to the liberation of his people and in those heady days of the late sixties, when the example of Che Guevara and the armed struggles then unfolding in Latin America and elsewhere were magnetic.
He left the GDR abruptly, directed by the Guatemalan party to undertake military training in the North Korea and Cuba in preparation for a guerrilla campaign in his native Guatemala.
In the early seventies Christian became one of the founders of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres or EGP). But, for various reasons, he was not among the fisrt armed units to enter the country.
Eight years later, in early March 1980, only a few months after being elected to the command of the EGP, he joined his comrades in the field. Some weeks later when marching along an arduous mountain path in Chiapas, hindered by a dense tangle of vegetation Christian began suffering serious health problems – he was coughing blood and running a high fever. He thought he simply had an attack of malaria and was determined to keep going, but it was more serious than that. He died on that march; he was just 35 years old.
In 2002, his remains were taken to Guatemala City and, in the presence of his parents, family and former comrades, were given a dignified burial.
The Guatemalan Interdiocesan Recovery of Historical Memory organisation is also carrying out ongoing exhumations initiated in the era of the 1996 peace accords. The bones disinterred in massive, clandestine burial sites provided testimony to the nature of the violence in Guatemala. Although faded and deteriorated, victims' clothing retained the distinctive woven colours and patterns of those worn by Maya campesinos. Broken toys and babies' bones provided devastating, silent testimony that the targets of the military were not just armed guerrillas, but unarmed civilians - men, women, and children. The testimonies presented by victims gave voice to the silent dead, exhumed from mass graves.

President Colom, Guatemal’s new president, has now given an official apology on behalf of the Guatemalan government and armed forces. It is rumoured that the government intends to promote a public memorial and possibly even a historical museum as part of its programme of memory and compensation, in conformance with the recommendations of the long-rejected UN report.

However, the current situation of violence in Guatemala in which an average of 17 people are murdered daily and some 60,000 have been killed since the signing of the peace accords in 1996, makes a mockery of the government’s claim that "never again will we repeat this tragic, perverse, and bloody history." As Rosalina Tuyuc, founder of the National Association of Guatemalan Widows observed, "tragically the patrones of the violence of the past and the present are the same."

It can only be hoped that the ultimate sacrifice of young men like Christian Lorenzen and Rene Otto Castillo is not forgotten but continues to inspire future generations of revolutionaries who will come to share their noble aspirations. As the Nicaraguan poet, Giaconda Belli put it: ‘they were the carriers of our dreams’.

The period of the Cold War between the US and USSR, had an immense influence on Guatemala. From the 1950s through the 1990s, the US government directly supported Guatemala's right wing governments and its army with training, weapons, and money.
In 1954, Arévalo's freely elected Guatemalan successor, Jacobo Arbenz, was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA. In the 1954 coup, Colonel Armas was installed as president and ruled until assassinated by a member of his personal guard in 1957. Substantial evidence points to the role of the American United Fruit Company as instrumental in this coup, as the land reforms of Jacobo Arbenz were considered a threat to the company's extensive interests in Guatemala and it had direct ties to the White House and the CIA.
In the election that followed, General Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes assumed power. He authorized the training of 5,000 anti-Castro Cubans in Guatemala. He also provided airstrips in Guatemala for what later became the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961.
In 1966, Julio Montenegro was elected president of Guatemala under the banner ‘Democratic Opening’. Montenegro was the candidate of the Revolutionary Party, which was far from revolutionary. It was during this time that rightist paramilitary organizations, such as the ‘White Hand’ (Mano Blanca), and the Anti-communist Secret Army, (Ejército Secreto Anticomunista), were formed. These organizations were the forerunners of the infamous ‘Death Squads’. Military advisers from the US Army Special Forces (Green Berets) as well as Israeli specialists were sent to Guatemala to train troops and help transform its army into a modern counter-insurgency force, infamous for its ruthlessness and use of torture - it became the most sophisticated and ruthless in Central America. As a result of the Army's ‘scorched earth’ tactics, thousands were massacred and more than 45,000 people fled across the border into Mexico.

In 1982, The Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca or URNG) emerged as a united guerrilla umbrella organisation out of the four armed revolutionary groups active in Guatemala.
This unification came about in response to the successes of the Salvadoran guerrilla FMLN and the Nicaraguan FSLN (Sandinistas) in order to create a more effective opposition to the military dictatorship. In 1996 after the peace process following the cessation of armed struggle it became a legal political party.
Today Guatemala enjoys a fragile democracy, but the scars of the armed struggle, the systematic ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and mass exodus of the seventies and eighties still reverberate.