from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
June 13, 2001


As Guatemala struggles to create democratic institutions out of the wreckage of its decades-long civil war, one of the most difficult challenges it faces is to establish control of its security services.

This is a challenge for any democracy. Even the United States has failed to compel its intelligence community to comply with basic constitutional norms such as budget accountability.

But Guatemala, burdened by its painful history and possessing only the most rudimentary democratic institutions, has a much more difficult task.

So it is noteworthy that some Guatemalans are attempting to meet that challenge. In two recent papers, analyst Manolo Vela defines the problem and charts a way forward.

"Dilemas de la Reforma del Sistema de Inteligencia en Guatemala" (FLACSO, 1999) summarizes the necessity for intelligence reform and the obstacles to it.

A longer work on "Poder Legislativo y Servicios de Inteligencia en la Guatemala de Post-Guerra" (Fundacion Myrna Mack, 2000) envisions a system of parliamentary control of intelligence for Guatemala.

Vela, a sociologist by training, writes about intelligence with as much theoretical sophistication as any of his English language counterparts. Actually, much of his conceptual framework and terminology -- "frenos y contrapesos" (checks and balances), "presupuesto negro" (black budget), etc. -- has its parallel in, or is simply imported from, the literature on U.S. intelligence.

On the other hand, Vela's work also reflects a growing body of Spanish language literature on intelligence and democracy by a nucleus of political scientists, activists and others.

In support of their educational and political efforts, FAS offers Manolo Vela's two papers and related materials on Guatemalan intelligence here:


Intelligence policy issues facing the U.S. Congress are reviewed and summarized in a Congressional Research Service issue brief on "Intelligence Issues for Congress."

The issue brief, prepared by Congressional Research Service analyst Richard A. Best, Jr. and updated on June 4, is posted here:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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