As part of their preparation for their trip to Guatemala this April, Ms. Thornton’s seminar students skyped with Kate Doyle, Senior Analyst of U.S. Policy in Latin America for the National Security Archive and Director of their Guatemala Project. They were joined by Mr. Jenkins’s Spanish conversation students.
The seminar students had sent questions to Ms. Doyle in advance. She began with an overview of her career path (Brown, Columbia) including what inspired her commitment to Latin American human rights issues (Iran-Contra hearings), then moved on to Guatemalan history and Guatemala-U.S. relations beginning with the 1944 democratic spring there, described how the NSA used FOIA requests to support the work of the Guatemala truth commission, and concluded by answering follow-up questions about U.S. government response to the NSA’s work, the danger of the work, the current status of the Montt trial, and the extent to which this history is being taught in Guatemala’s schools.
In regard to FOIA requests, Ms. Doyle emphasized that the moment a person with any U.S. government entity creates a document, “the moment that information is born, it is yours, it is ours” – with recognized limits for national security. Working within FOIA restrictions, within the law, is an important difference between the NSA’s practices and the actions of WikiLeaks/Snowden. Ms. Doyle contends that because the National Security Archive’s analysts obtain documents through proper legal channels, those documents have more power when used in court.
The insight that will linger with me from her talk is her characterization of the Montt trial and verdict last year as an incredible achievement for the Guatemalan people – despite the verdict being annulled ten days later. To see Rios Montt have to sit there and listen to the survivors’ testimony in their language (Ixil), to wear headphones as he heard their stories through the translator, that image itself “was not business as usual in Guatemala” and affirmed for the people the power they had to make that trial happen.
Great work, Ms. Thornton for organizing the conversation, and to students for your insightful questions!