Date: Wed, 18 Sep 1996 05:37:44 -0500
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Bands banned as Guatemala downplays militarism
Reuter, Thursday 12 September 1996
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuter) - Efforts to curb Guatemala's long-standing militarism will reach the schoolyard Sunday with the government's ban on high school marching bands in the Independence Day parade.
A decree that has stirred deep controversy says that for the annual parade Sept. 15, goose-stepping, uniformed "war bands" are out while mural painting and poetry are in.
Education Minister Arabella Castro said she wanted to promote a culture of peace when she issued the ruling, in the spirit of the peace talks that it is hoped will end a 36-year civil war by the end of this year.
"Marching in full dress uniform is not the way for children to be creative in relation to the peace of their country, in relation to their symbols, their forests, their flora and fauna," Castro said on a radio talk show this week.
In past parades thousands of teen-agers in white gloves and uniforms decorated with gold braid goose-stepped for eight hours in the capital, ignoring rain or intense sun as their sergeants snapped out orders. Detractors said they fostered militaristic attitudes many Guatemalans hoped to leave behind.
Supporters say canceling the 50-year-old tradition is a blow to patriotism and that school bands foster discipline. In a poll by the newspaper Prensa Libre, 59 percent of Guatemala City residents said they did not agree with the parade ban.
But Castro had her own idea of patriotic projects. She said the students should paint murals, decorate schools and write poems instead.
The government of President Alvaro Arzu has surprised Guatemalans by the speed with which it has sought to restore peace to a country long racked by violence and disappearances in a war that has killed about 100,000 people.
Arzu said this week that peace talks under way in Mexico City would lead to an agreement on Sept. 19 to curb the army's power and define its role in peacetime ahead of a full peace accord due to be signed by year-end.