Civilian Defence Patrols (semi-official) (Guatemala)

Country: Guatemala
Details of Formation: The Civil Defence Patrols were first organized by the army in the late 1980s, in the context of the Guatemalan civil war (Bateson 2017). They were then an informal militia. First formed under President Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, they were officially created by decree by General Rios Montt on 1 August 1982 (Wikipedia), turning them into a semi-official militia.
Details of Termination: The peace treaty signed on 29 December 1996 officially demobilized the Civilian Defence Patrols (Wikipedia) and a news source reports that most, though not all, patrols dissolved. Ex-patrollers remained organized and active, continuing the patrols, partly because they and the civilian population were socialized to see a necessity in the patrol’s existence (Bateson 2017). After their official demobilization, patrols maintained their close relationship with the military (Wikipedia) and the Guatemalan state even cedes control to the patrols (Bateson 2017). Due to their changed link to the government, after 29 December 1996, the group is coded as “Civilian Defence Patrols (informal)”.
Purpose: The Civil Defence Patrols served several strategic purposes. The primary purpose seems to keep track of the villagers and to monitor them through their patrol activity, in order to ensure they would not join the rebels (Bateson 2017, Wikipedia). It also made villagers take sides, because once they fought for the patrols, they were a possible target for the rebels (Bateson 2017). Minor reasons include the amplification of the government’s fighting force, deniability of violence committed by the “volunteers” (Bateson 2017), increasing identification with the Guatemalan state (Wikipedia), and using local knowledge.
Organisation: At the beginning, patrols were only loosely organized, with limited contact to military officers and no senior patrollers. Many operated in remote areas with little supervision from the military (Bateson 2017). A news source of 1996 reports that the militia often met with the army to share information.
Weapons and Training: Formal training by the army was sporadic, inconsistent and of short duration. The patrols’ growth outpaced the military’s training capacity. The government and army provided just few weapons. They were also extremely careful who to arm, and to limit the distribution of weapons among civilians. Sometimes members just patrolled with a machete and a stick (Bateson 2017), and weapons varied from whips to old M1 rifles (Wikipedia). A news source also mentions slingshots. Estimates suggest only 10% of the forces were armed.
Size: In 1982, the militia had less than 30,000 members; by 1983 the number grew to 700,000 (Bateson 2017) or 1 million (Wikipedia). In 1984, it had 1.3 million men (Bateson 2017). In 1988 it had shrunk to 600,000 and by 1994 to 300,000 members.
Reason for Membership: During the civil war, the Guatemalan government forced civilians to join the Civil Defence Patrols, under threat of force. Some members enjoyed exercising control and committing abuses of fellow villagers. Officially they were to be paid; however, members did not know when, where and how the payment would be issued. Payments never seemed to materialize. Casualties were caused by the military that often killed patrollers without apparent reason (Bateson 2017).
Treatment of Civilians: The patrols were engaged in wide-spread human rights abuses, beating, torturing, raping and killing human rights advocates, mayors, judges, villagers and children (Bateson 2017, Wikipedia). These actions were sometimes ordered by the military, in other occasions it was on their own initiative (Wikipedia). A news source additionally mentions disappearances committed by the group.
Other Information: The Civil Defence Patrols are also known by their Spanish name “patrullas de autodefensa civil” (PAC). They can be classified as “civil defense force” and are sedentary, defensive and state-aligned (Bateson 2017). Ethnic targets (also linked to purpose of intimidation) were indicated as indigenous people. The indigenous population in in Guatemala is mainly consisting of Mayas. There are also small minorities of Xinca and Garifunas. It is unclear whether the latter groups were also targeted by the Civilian Defence Patrols.
References: Bateson, Regina. 2017. “The socialization of civilians and militia members: Evidence from Guatemala.” Journal of Peace Research 54(5): 634-647

Wikipedia. “Civil Defense Patrols”. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Civil_Defense_Patrols&oldid=847761680