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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Thu Jan 6 10:36:13 2000
Date: Sat, 1 Jan 2000 00:42:25 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: POLITICS-GUATEMALA: New Portillo Gov't Sparks Fear and Distrust
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Article: 85851
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New Portillo Gov't Sparks Fear and Distrust

By Celina Zubieta, IPS, 30 December 1999

GUATEMALA CITY, Dec 30 (IPS) - Guatemala's future government under president-elect Alfonso Portillo is already causing fear among human rights organisations, while the United States and Mexican media criticise the imminent Portillo administration's ties with former dictator Efra¡n R¡os Montt.

Portillo, of the right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) created and led by general R¡os Montt, will take office Jan 14 after defeating his rival Oscar Berger in the presidential run-off election Dec 26 with 68 percent of the vote.

Karen Fischer, leader of the non-governmental Alliance Against Impunity, told IPS "we have to hope that Portillo complies with respecting human rights and combatting public insecurity, issues he committed himself to during the campaign."

"He promised to resolve the Gerardi case, but did not do the same for the rest of the human rights crimes that remain unpunished," she added.

Roman Catholic bishop Juan Gerardi was assassinated in April 1998, two days after he presented a report that attributed most of the human rights violations during Guatemala's 36-year civil war to the military. The national conflict, which cost the lives of more than 200,000 people, finally ended when peace accords were signed in December 1996.

Rigoberta Mench£, indigenous leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, affirmed that the Guatemalan people expect Portillo "to keep all the promises he made during the election campaign."

But Mench£ told IPS she will not attend the presidential inauguration because R¡os Montt will be there, and it was under his dictatorship (1982-1983) that the worst human rights violations occurred.

Mench£ initiated legal charges in Spain against seven Guatemalan military officers, including the former dictator, for assassination, torture and state terrorism committed during the civil war.

The R¡os Montt government created Civil Self-Defence Patrols (PAC), paramilitary militias that ultimately included one million peasants who were responsible for one of every five massacres at the time, according to the report bishop Gerardi co-ordinated before he was killed.

Human rights activists say that members of the now-dismantled PACs, which cultivated terror and virtually controlled the Guatemalan population, are an important part of the FRG's electoral base and could be reactivated at any point under a different name.

Outside of Guatemala, fears about the new government are more openly expressed. Mexico's 'La Jornada' newspaper and The Washington Post in the United States both pointed out in their Wednesday editions that Portillo will take office without a clear stance on the human rights issue.

The two newspapers emphasised R¡os Montt's negative influence over the future administration, blaming him for a "dark legacy."

"Though Portillo says he belongs to an inappropriately named 'democratic left,' his relationship (with R¡os Montt) and his public confession of his own violent character lead one to assume that Guatemala will suffer another repressive government, but perhaps with right-wing populist trimmings," indicated a La Jornada editorial.

Portillo, an economist and lawyer with a Marxist education, lived in Mexico for several years. When he returned to Guatemala in the early 1990s he joined the Christian Democracy party, but later joined the ranks of the right-wing FRG.

The president-elect publicly acknowledged that he shot and killed two people in the Mexican town of Chilpancingo in Guerrero state, where he lived and worked as a university professor. Portillo affirmed that he acted in self-defence.

The Washington Post warned that Guatemala has a difficult road ahead because the new leader is to assume the presidential post without having established his priorities or making a public commitment on human rights.

"The attacks do not surprise us, because it is all part of the political campaign. They should judge Portillo after he begins working," instead of pre-judging him now, said FRG assistant secretary Harris Whitbeck in an interview with the Guatemalan daily 'Siglo Veintiuno.'

Portillo has offered other political parties, including the leftist New Nation Alliance, a governing agreement based on the 1996 peace treaties. Former guerrilla fighters who signed the accords are now among the New Nation Alliance membership. (END/IPS/tra-so/cz/ff-mj/ld/99)

Origin: Montevideo/POLITICS-GUATEMALA/

[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS) M
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