Photographer Holly Wilmeth is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘The Kaibiles | A New Decade – A New Face’. To see Holly’s body of work, click on any image.
During the 36-year-long civil war, the general Guatemalan population feared the Kaibiles. Their mystical training (requiring the killing of animals and drinking their blood as proof of courage), as well as documented examples of civilian massacres (most notably the December 1982 Dos Erres massacre in which 162 civilians were killed, many children and women) have left them with a tainted past. Most recently ties linking four of them to a Mexican drug trade group known as The Zeta was uncovered last October. Although their physical training remains much the same except for a few changes (no raw animal eating), their reputation as a special force is esteemed internationally. The United Nations has recruited over 189 Kaibiles that serve as peace mediators in the Congo and Haiti, and three Presidents keep Kaibiles as their maximum security.
The Kaibiles are a special operations force of the Military of Guatemala, specializing in jungle warfare tactics and counter-insurgency operations created in 1974. Since the 1996 signing of the Peace Accords ending a 36-year-long civil war, the Kaibiles have been preserved by rededicating them to another war: that of narcotics and crime. According to the Ministry of Defense, the Kaibil Centre’s mission is to train and develop elite commando forces: “To select, by means of arduous, difficult training under physical and mental pressure, members of the army capable of engaging in commando operations.” Its soldiers are distinguished from regular troops by maroon berets with patches bearing a blazing sword. Its motto is: “If I go forward, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I turn back, kill me”.
Their training is in the north of the country in a place called “Hell” near the border of Belize, deep in the jungle of Peten. In 32 years there have been 5 thousands graduates. In the last training 16 officers graduated, coming from Nicaragua, Belize, Salvador and Honduras. Some training consists of jumping off of vehicles moving at 40 kilometers per hour, swimming with their fusil and more than 30 pounds of equipment, running a stretch of 54 kilometers, and going days without sleep or food. At the present there are three groups of Kaibiles, one consisting of instructors, and two consisting of 162 commandos apiece. Each group is divided into four 38-men platoons, further subdivided into squads of nine soldiers.
All images and text © Holly Wilmeth
By Holly Wilmeth