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Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 97 11:35:19 CST
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Behind the agreement in Guatemala
Article: 3890

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Jan. 16, 1997 issue of Workers World newspaper

Guatemalan Accords Signed; Struggle Shifts to Political Arena

By Deirdre Griswold, Workers World, 16 January 1997

The state of war between the government of Guatemala and guerrilla movements grouped in the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) ended on Dec. 29 with the signing of a comprehensive agreement by rebel leaders, civilian and military government officials, and outgoing UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

But the severe social antagonisms and intense exploitation that led to 36 years of fighting continue unabated.

Four leaders of the URNG--Jorge Rosal Melendez, Carlos Gonzalez, Pablo Monsanto and Rolando Moran--flew into Guatemala City on the eve of the signing. They were met at the airport by cheering crowds waving URNG flags and banners.

For the guerrilla leaders, it was their first view of the capital in years. For those who came to greet them, it was the first opportunity to show open support for revolutionaries who have led the battle against a brutal and entrenched oligarchy.

Just a short while ago, confessing support for the rebels would have meant an automatic death sentence. Several hundred thousand people were killed by the military during the war, many after horrible torture and "disappearance." Most of the army's massacres targeted the indigenous majority, who made up the backbone of the revolution against a privileged and elitist ruling class.

In this dirty war, over 400 Mayan villages were totally wiped out by the army, which operated with U.S. weapons, training and support.


The morning of the signing, 25,000 people marched to the city's cemetery and left red carnations on the graves of victims of the government's counter-insurgency war.

Mayan leader Rosario Pu told the Reuter news agency, "We are going to defend these accords at all cost."

"We've always thought that the ideas [of the rebels] are also part of the ideas of the people," said Wenceslau Almira of the Coalition of Mayan Peoples Organizations. "For us, their arrival is very important because now they and the people can unite in their efforts to guarantee compliance with all the commitments undertaken at the negotiating table."

The commitments are open to broad interpretation. The agreement states that the government is resolved to respect and protect human rights; that it will provide for the safe return and resettlement of the displaced populations; that Guatemalans have a right to know the truth about human rights violations committed during the war; that the rights and identity of the indigenous peoples must be recognized; and that socioeconomic development must be participatory.

In more precise language, it also calls for the demobilization of the URNG guerrillas by April 15.

Ten days before the signing of this document, Guatemala's Congress in a closed-door session passed a "Law for Reconciliation" that gives amnesty to troops on both sides for crimes committed during the war.

The meaning of this law is already being hotly debated. Critics say it exonerates the army of its genocidal crimes against the civilian population. MINUGUA, a UN team that is supposed to verify compliance with the accords, argues that the amnesty law makes exception in cases of genocide, torture and forced disappearances.

But Jennifer Harbury, a U.S. citizen whose Guatemalan husband was tortured to death, and who went on a hunger strike to get Washington to reveal that the CIA was in on his murder, writes on the Internet that "if the courts remain under total military control as they now are, the amnesty principles will not be properly applied. As we have already seen, the commitments made in the Global Human Rights Accord of 1994 have been grossly violated by the army to date. Since October 1996, two indigenous rights leaders from CONIC have been murdered, as have three people linked with the Defensoria Maya, a leading journalist, and a union leader."

Looking at other countries where similar laws have let death squad brass off the hook, Harbury says, "In Argentina, some trials of military leaders occurred, but when the time for sentencing arrived, a coup became imminent, and the President issued a blanket pardon. In El Salvador there was also an amnesty."


Not mentioned in the accords is the role of the United States in Guatemala's tortured history. Yet it is not even a secret any more that the long years of brutal military dictatorship resulted from a CIA-organized overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954.

Arbenz, elected on the promise of resisting Yankee exploitation, had tried to nationalize idle land belonging to the United Fruit Co., which acted like a sovereign nation inside Guatemala. As Larry Rohter reported in the New York Times on Jan. 5: "Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and his Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles, were brothers who were both members of the law firm that represented United Fruit--a situation that Susanne Jonas, a leading American scholar of Guatemalan history, calls `one of the clearest examples in modern history of U.S. policy being affected by direct ties of public officials to private interests.'"

Rohter also reports from Guatemala that "Since November, crowds have been flocking to movie theaters here to see `Devils Don't Dream,' a documentary about the 1954 coup. One scene from old newsreels shows Col. Carlos Castillo Armas, President Arbenz's successor, surrounded by American military officers who literally tell him what to say.

"And when Howard Hunt, the former CIA agent and Watergate figure who was an organizer of the uprising, is interviewed on screen and smirks about how easy it was to bribe Guatemalan security forces to stand on the sidelines, pained cries of protest erupt from the audience."

After being the principal sponsor of the genocidal war for years, the U.S. ruling class, as represented by its diplomatic, military and intelligence agencies, now clearly believes that its interests can be better served at this point by the accords.

The setbacks in what was once a bloc of socialist countries have reduced the threat to imperialism of "another Cuba"--where a revolution in a small country succeeded in a thoroughgoing social transformation and liberated the people from the grip of global monopoly capital.

But Washington is leaving nothing to chance. It will maintain a strong military presence in Guatemala, and is already using the so-called war on drugs as an excuse for beefing up the Guatemalan military with new patrol boats and advanced radar. And, under the guise of providing needed development, it is pumping up the role of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has a long history as a conduit for CIA covert action.

While a renewal of the war is always a possibility, the struggle of the workers and peasants against the landed oligarchy and its imperialist sponsors has now shifted to a different arena.

Commander Daniel Ruiz of the URNG says, "We never fell in love with the war. It was only an instrument to achieve political objectives. ...

"What we've done is make a change in strategy. The revolutionary struggle doesn't end with the peace accords. Rather we're going to continue fighting in other arenas." The URNG leaders say they intend to form a political party with support from the unions and other popular organizations.

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: ww@wwpublish.com. For subscription info send message to: ww-info@wwpublish.com. Web: http://www.workers.org)