US Ambassador Stephen McFarland’s Grip on Guatemala

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By Nil Nikandrov
Tiwy.com | November 28, 2010

The media write a lot about the US aggressiveness in international politics, Washington's efforts to push alternative centers of power off the world scene, and its belief that the populations of China, India, Russia, Brazil and many other countries impose an excessive burden on the environment. Individual players in the framework of the global project – US diplomats, spies, Peace Corps activists, USAID employees - receive relatively little coverage. US ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland is one of them.

According to Wikipedia, he was born in Texas in 1955 into the family of an officer of the elite Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the US Department of State. The duties of S. McFarland's father were not limited to collecting and analyzing freely available information – he also coordinated field operations in Latin America and the Middle East. Eager to build a career modeled on that of his father, Stephen finished the American School of Lima (Peru), then studied at Yale University and the US Air War College.

McFarland's first diplomatic appointment brought him to the US consulate in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The US always ascribed high priority to the collection of information in oil-rich regions, and McFarland clearly did a good job handling the task.

Later McFarland held diplomatic posts in the US embassies in Quito, Lima, La Paz, and San Salvador. When the list of positions to be used as cover for US intelligence operatives was broadened by G. Bush's Administration, McFarland was promoted to US Chargé d'Affaires, first in Paraguay, then in Venezuela. Between the terms, McFarland served as the State Department's intelligence coordinator for Nicaragua and Cuba.

McFarland was introduced to Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom as the US ambassador in September, 2008. Colom, the president who evoked heightened expectations among the Guatemalan left, must have had no idea that the new US diplomatic envoy arrived with a special mission to act on parallel tracks as an ambassador and a coordinator of the US intelligence operations. The appointment was sealed on the highest US level and blessed by US Director of National Intelligence J. Negroponte.

Several other US ambassador-residents – notably, those in Venezuela and Ecuador – hold posts of a similar nature. When Negroponte became C. Rice's deputy at the US Department of State, he attended the ceremony of McFarland's departure to the new destination. Uniquely, the whole event was videotaped and posted in Internet, evidently to demonstrate that McFarland was not a secretive figure.

Posts in the Internet concerning McFarland tend to be harsh. M. Grijalva expressed a widely-held view when he wrote that McFarland, a Republican diplomat likely linked to the CIA, epitomizes audacity, corruption, and sinister methods and is charged with the mission to overthrow Colom's social-democratic government. The post said only Judas might know how McFarland earned his rewards.

The very first days of McFarland's work in Guatemala were marred with a scandal as secret microphones and video cameras were found in the Guatemalan leader's office and residence, including the bedroom. Reports were leaked to the media that the advanced spy equipment could supply information on-line to receivers sited at a distance of 1-1.5 km, and the widespread impression was that the CIA must have been responsible. Fingers were pointed at the US embassy's political department chief B. Drew who left Guatemala by the time the spy equipment was discovered.

McFarland had to deal with the fallout, but president Colom's own statement that the microphones and cameras had been installed by the drug mafia and organized criminal groups helped him out. McFarland readily upheld the president's version and blamed the security breach on the Secretariat for Administrative and Security Matters, SAAS. SAAS chief Carlos Quintanilla and his protege – the chief of the Secretariat for Strategic Analysis, SAE, Gustavo Solano promptly went into hiding.

Following Colom's request, McFarland invited the FBI to investigate the incident. The spy equipment was passed to the FBI agents who - after a considerable delay – stated that the devices were defunct and, consequently, the fears of Colom's loyalists that sensitive data on Guatemala's foreign politics, national security, and arms import plans could have been stolen were groundless.

Quintanilla faced trial only in 2010, when the incident had largely receded from the spotlight, and was acquitted due to the lack of implicating evidence. The investigation ignored the facts that Quintanilla and Solano were no strangers to the US embassy and had off-duty contacts with US intelligence operatives.

McFarland must be credited with success in addressing his number one political task – to separate Guatemalan president Colom from the populist leaders. Colom talked to them a lot at various forums and readily took part in joint photo sessions, but no serious practical steps followed. Even Guatemala's attempts to join the Petrocaribe consortium patronized by Venezuela were regarded as defiance in Washington, economic damage to Guatemala notwithstanding. As a result, Guatemala became a Petrocaribe member only in June, 2009.

Ambassador McFarland gradually took the role of a captain charting the course for Guatemala's socioeconomic transformation. It is up to him to bless the majority of government appointments and to suggest what legislation regulating its law-enforcement agencies Guatemala should pass. At the moment he is pushing for a new law on Guatemala's national police. Occasionally, McFarland advises president Colom to fire particular officials based on their alleged drug cartel connections. As a general rule, the views held by the US ambassador meet with the Guatemalan politicians' full understanding.

McFarland generously dispenses advice on the struggle against drug trafficking and corruption, army modernization and arms import, and USAID food supplies to famine-stricken regions of Guatemala. His restraint was put to a serious test just once when he attended a memorial ceremony organized by the relatives of Guatemalans who had been killed or went missing in the country's internal conflict. Weeping women begged him to open up CIA archives which must contain information about the corresponding burial sites, so that they could bury their loved ones properly. Evidently touched, McFarland pledged to cooperate, but it remains unknown whether he did what he promised to.

On March 6, 2010 www.rebelion.org published a crushing article on McFarland's grip on Guatemala. It read:

“What would you say about the statements made by an ambassador of a country that used to be seriously involved in a dirty war in our country as well as in other parts of Latin America which took some 200,000 lives? He continues to intervene with unprecedented boldness into the domestic affairs of our country. He represents the nation which fostered counter-revolution and annihilated the democratic government of Jacobo Arbenz. His nation created and controlled the death squads with their practice of genocide and anticommunist cleanings. What moral right does the individual have to express views concerning terrorist activities which the US actually planned for the countries it regards as its own backyard? Didn't its military advisers train and direct the army of killers operated by the military regimes of the epoch?”

McFarland probably remained unperturbed as his term in Guatemala is nearing the completion. A new appointment and a new mission await him. At the departure ceremony, president Colom will award him the Order of the Quetzal as a recognition of his service to Guatemala.

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