The month of September, apart from bringing us torrential rains which made the already difficult means of communication even more challenging, put us right in the middle of an election campaign. While the preelectoral campaign has brought meetings, declarations and tours, impunity, political violence and common crime has continued to set the tone in the country. As pointed out by Guatemalan archbishop, Prospero Penados del Barrios, "whenever Guatemala goes through an electoral process, the rate of assassinations increases, and many of them remain unsolved, facilitating the continuation of impunity''.
The second to last theme in the peace talks, Socioeconomics and the Agrarian Situation, was reopened at the negotiation table at the end of September in complete secrecy. According to the startling remarks of the representative of the World Bank, Jose Roberto Lopez, the accords that are eventually signed could tie down the governments which succeed in signing peace. The world bank has called into question the future applicability of the accords and is apparently putting pressure on the government so that the content of these accords will suit their interests. Pablo Duarte of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) attested that the spokesperson of the World Bank is of the opinion that "if these accords were signed by the State, the next government would have problems complying with them and would face certain conditions to obtain loans''. (Prensa Libre, 22.9.95)
The guerrilla commander Pablo Monsanto asserted that "the accords which are being discussed in the negotiations and those that will be signed will be from the State and whichever government wins will be obliged to comply with them'' (La Republica, 18.9.95).
The demands by the Assembly of Civil Society (ASC) on the government and the guerrillas to comply with the Agreement on Relocation of Displaced Populations, and the pressure by CACIF (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial and Financial Associations) to suspend the negotiations until Guatemalan military personnel and human rights abusers are again allowed to secure visas to visit the USA are but a few of the elements affecting this theme in the negotiation process. In spite of the obstacles and the resurgence of confrontations between the army and guerrillas, the peace negotiations continue thanks to the commitment of both parties, mediation parties and the international community.
In a high level military act, the Army proceeded to demobilize 22,286 military commissioners. In accordance with the decree of President De Leon Carpio, the act was carried out to comply with the recommendations of the expert advisors of the United Nations in relation to Human Rights. There has, however, been no lack of voices claiming that the demobilization has been purely cosmetic. According to the Minister of Defense, Mario Enriquez, "there is a plan to reorganize the commissions, collaborators and confidentials, all of whom won't be depending on the military institution''. The leader of the National Coordinating Committee of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), Rosalina Tuyuc, denounced that certain military commissions implicated in human rights abuses have had their crimes forgotten and, as in the case of Lopez Giron, they have been guaranteed impunity in order to participate in the electoral process.
This month saw a new wave of kidnappings, threats and break-ins to the offices of the popular movement. Due to this increase, we have continued visiting the offices of a number of popular organizations and have continued accompanying Debora Guzman of the MJ Modas Maquila in Amatitlan. We have followed the case of Olimpia Azucena Lara Gonzalez, the daughter of Luis Lara, a syndicate leader of the Union for Popular and Syndicate Action (UASP) and Secretary General of the Assembly of Public Health, and have provided her with accompaniment after her kidnapping and brutal beating. Related to this case was the kidnapping of the Secretary of the Association of Students in History, Anthropology, and Archaeology (AEHAH) of the University of San Carlos (USAC), Rafael Cholotio Ramos, whom we have been accompanying since his release. We also provided a presence in the offices of the Centre for Popular Education and Investigation (CIEP), due to the threats received by their director.
In the field of Peace Education, we prepared and cofacilitated a workshop with the Feminine Group for Family Improvement (GRUFEPROMEFAM) on collective negotiation for members of the union of AGRICASA. We also designed a workshop around group dynamics with the goal of bringing it to Victoria 20 of January Community where we will work with the leaders of the Coordinating Committee of Youth of Guatemala's Dawn (COJDAGUA). The team also had the opportunity to participate in a workshop on "Accompaniment as an Act of Support to People Experiencing Repression'', facilitated by Carlos Beristain.
With the upcoming elections in mind, we carried out a number of interviews with members of the popular and union movement as well as a few Guatemalan non-governmental organizations, in order to deepen our understanding of their goals and strategies. We also carried out an interview with the Minister of External Relations, Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre and with the Ambassadors of Germany and Great Britain. We participated in the Forum on International Accompaniment for this month and have been preparing a number of reports for the bi-yearly meeting of our Central America Project Committee.
We were present for the celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Mayan Committee Majawil Q'ij, held in Iximche, Tecpan. We visited the office of the Mutual Support Group in Rabinal, Alta Verapaz and in Solola we visited with a torture victim from the community. We accompanied a member of the Council of Ethnic Communities "Runujel Junam'' (CERJ) to observe un unsuccessful attempt by the Armed Civil Patrols (PACS) of the community Tierra Colorada near the model community Parraxtut, Quiche, to surrender their arms. In addition, in the Ixil area, we met with the Committees for the Recuperation of Land in Chajul, to hear their demands and to collect information about the conflict over land which exists with the CPR's of the Sierra. We travelled to "La Esmirna'' finca in Malacatan, San Marcos, to accompany members of CUC as they provided land titles to campesinos in the area.
We visited Finca "La Concha'' in San Juan Bautista, Suchitepequez, after receiving a petition from the community to learn more about the situation affecting them. They explained to us that the Centavo Foundation bought finca "La Concha'', where these people were born and had worked all their lives. When the foundation acquired the land, they promised the campesinos parcels of land and a percentage of profits if the land were productive in cultivating coffee.
According to the campesinos, the Foundation has not complied with this agreement in terms of percentage of profits and land parcels. It has also not provided much of the infrastructural work needed on the land. Faced with this situation, the occupants decided to disallow any entries of Foundation members into the finca. The conflict is now in the courts and there have been threats of a forced removal of the occupants; the last one, ordered on September 6th, came close to being carried out with the participation of 1,500 antiriot police. An order for capture has been put out for a number of campesinos in the finca and if they leave the finca, they may be detained. The negotiations remain open between the two sides, but the Foundation is now demanding payment from the campesinos if they wish to remain there - this payment being much higher than the price of the finca before the campesinos made it productive.
With less than five weeks left before the general elections, it appears that the number of registered voters has increased only slightly compared to the last elections. According to Inforpress (28.9.95), the reason for this slight increase can be found in the fact that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) failed to carry out registration in every corner of the country. Inforpress also claimed that the publicity campaign carried out by the Registry of Citizens (RC) to encourage participation was low profile and begun right before the registration deadline, "it is certain that these State Organizations (RC and TSE) are betting on abstentionism and the dominance of the urban vote over the rural one.''
According to the RC, 3.7 million Guatemalans are officially registered to vote in the November elections (La Republica, 26.9.95). An important point is that one hundred and sixty (160) Civic Committees will participate in the elections, a correction from what we publicized in the last bulletin when we said that 65 would participate.
According to the first national study carried out by the Association of Social Studies and Investigations (ASIES), 70% of Guatemalans think they would go to the polls while 56% said they hadn't decided on a candidate. The study showed that 37% of those polled said they would vote for the same party for president and representatives, which would mean the Congress would be more divided and no party would hold a majority in the next legislature (La Republica, 15.9.95)
In the presidential race, it appears that Alvaro Arzu from the right-wing National Advancement Party (PAN) is in the lead with 22.4% planning to vote for him. In second place is Alfonso Portillo Cabrera from the Guatemalan Republic Front (FRG) with 10.2%. Fernando Andrade of the National Alliance (AN) is in third place with 3.9%. The National Alliance, made up of three parties; National Union of the Centre (UCN), Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Guatemalan Christian Democracy (DCG), is in crisis due to the fact that the RC in Quiche registered Carlos Enrique Lopez Giron as deputy candidate though he has been linked to the assassination of political leader and presidential candidate Jorge Carpio Nicolle (Inforpress, 21.9.95) The presidential candidate for the Democratic Front for a New Guatemala (FDNG), received 0.2% of the foreseen vote (Prensa Libre, 15.9.95)
After 10 years of a difficult transition toward a more democratic society, these elections appear to be a lesson in encountering the political option for Guatemalans and a preparation for the elections without war and with Peace Accords in the year 2000.
Founded in 1981, Peace Brigades International is a unique non-governmental organization exploring nonpartisan approaches to peacemaking and support for basic human rights. Currently, PBI carries out effective nonviolent intervention in a challenging variety of conflicts: Colombia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and several Native communities in North America. PBI is officially recognized by the UN.
For more information contact, see pbi.news or contact:
PBI/USA 2642 College Ave., Berkeley CA 94704
T/F (510) 540-0749 or <email@example.com>