The Guatemalan Left: In a Delicate State
What does the URNG have to say about the Left, and what do leftists outside the URNG have to say? While everyone agrees on the need to build a "new nation," how to do it remains the apple of discord on the Guatemalan Left, which is in a delicate state with a reserved prognosis.
Juan Hernández Pico
Is there still a reason to write about the Left in any country after the Communist parties in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe failed so spectacularly, after the People’s Republic of China "opened the door" to capitalism and Deng Xiaoping said "it’s glorious to be rich"?
Is there still a reason now that the Social Democratic parties, including their "third way" versions à la Blair or Schroeder, seem just one more species doomed to political impotence, feeding people’s alienation from the public realm to such a point that they polled even lower than the extreme racist, xenophobic Right in the recent French elections? Does it make sense when Latin America’s leading "dependency" theorist, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, served two terms as President of Brazil but could find no room for over 100,000 indigenous people who asked for a place in the nationwide events held in 2000 to mark the 500th anniversary of the conquest, nor talk seriously with the powerful Landless Movement, nor use his political weight to prevent Brazil’s Congress from defining as farmland a piece of the Amazon four times the size of Portugal? Does it make sense when a serious analyst like Edelberto Torres Rivas recently maintained that "the Left cannot win elections in Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua"?
Nonetheless, the Left is still there in many countries, including those in Central America. It has won San Salvador’s municipal government for two consecutive terms and in the last elections won so many other municipal elections that it has governed over half the country’s population at the municipal level for the last three years. It remains stubbornly there in Brazil, where with three months to go before the presidential elections, Lula da Silva and his Workers’ Party are ahead in the polls, sending tremors through the Sao Paulo stock market. It is there in Bolivia, where candidates representing small coca growers won a significant number of seats in both the House and Senate in recent elections. Of course, the Right is there too, as shown by Alvaro Uribe’s crushing victory in Colombia. But the Right is a given in the age of globalization.
The Guatemalan left: What is the condition of the politically organized Left in Guatemala? Delicate, by all signs. The prognosis is clearly reserved. On April 25, two of the nine congressional representatives of the leftist New Nation Alliance (ANN) left the bench. Another had defected two years ago, to join the National Union of Hope, organized by former ANN presidential candidate Alvaro Colom.
One of the legislators who left the ANN is respected labor lawyer Alfonso Bauer Páiz, a survivor of the mythic period of Jacobo Arbenz and the Guatemalan Revolution (1950-54) and currently a leader of the National Democratic Leftist Union. The other is Nineth Montenegro, founder of the Mutual Support Group (GAM), which has fought to ascertain the fate of people who were forcibly disappeared, including her husband.
In addition, the URNG’s former general secretary, Jorge Ismael Soto, known as Pablo Monsanto when he was a guerrilla leader, has joined forces with Bauer and Montenegro to try to create a new political party. After these splits, what was the ANN bench in Congress is now simply called the URNG. Once again the Left has been gripped by divisions, just like those that have torn apart the FMLN in El Salvador.
Is unity a building block The URNG held its first congress as a political party in August 2001. The "Framework Document" for the congress argued that "unity of the revolutionary forces is a strategic factor in our struggle and alliances. If the road to revolutionary change is hard enough when we are united, it is simply impossible when we are not. None of the revolutionary groups that operated in the past and were dissolved after the Peace Accords can bring about the changes alone. The same can be said for the other groups that have emerged on the Left."
or just rubble?
Naturally, the basic supposition underlying this appraisal is that the URNG is the main leftist force in Guatemala. Four years ago, however, more than a few of the most prominent figures on the Left discussed this assumption and found it wanting. "No one can claim to represent the Left in Guatemala," said Alfonso Bauer Páiz. "There are no first-class revolutionaries, who waged an armed political struggle, and second-class revolutionaries, who waged an unarmed political and social struggle," said former guerrilla commander César Montes.
The URNG can reply that when the Democratic Front for a New Guatemala (FDNG) refused to join the New Nation Alliance promoted by the URNG in the 1999 elections, the ANN won 12.32% of the valid votes to become the country’s third largest political force, while the FDNG won only 1.29%. Despite these results, it is important for the URNG to listen to dissenting voices if it wants to build a leftist political alliance. The unity of forces, which is undeniably valuable in many cases, can also turn to mere rubble if it does not, as shown in Central America by the Sandinistas’ unquestioning sterile unity around a worn-out and ethically questionable leader like Daniel Ortega, the losing candidate in three consecutive elections.
Mature enough for The problem of fragmentation on the left leads us in Guatemala to other equally relevant leaders. Among them is Ricardo Ramírez, known as Rolando Morán when he led the EGP, one of the URNG’s four guerrilla organizations. Morán was a member of the URNG General Command and had a special ability to forge alliances among leftist forces of diverse origins, even if he was unable to prevent several breaks within the EGP itself. In fact, he was the one who spoke on behalf of the General Command at the event celebrating the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 and served as the party-in-formation’s first general secretary. When Morán died at the end of 1998, Pablo Monsanto, the deputy general secretary, assumed the post of interim general secretary and was then elected for a period of two years.
The URNG’s first congress in August 2001 was a kind of conference for broad consultations that are binding only if ratified by the General Assembly, the party’s highest body under Guatemalan law. During the congress, the General Assembly met to elect a new leadership, choosing between two slates. As current URNG leaders tell it, the slate headed up by Pablo Monsanto was made up only of people who had come out of the FAR, the guerrilla organization he led. The other slate, led by Alba Estela Maldonado (known as Lola during the war), included people from all four revolutionary organizations. The General Assembly elected Maldonado as general secretary along with her slate. When the results were announced, Monsanto stood up to leave the room in protest, with his bodyguards. According to these same sources, the congress president had to call him to order, reminding him that he must democratically accept the election results.
Party as tool or party as icon?If this was indeed what happened, the course of events highlights the problem of internal party democracy, demonstrated among other things by changes in leaders. The Framework Document for the First Congress states that "the party’s structure and functioning should reflect the presence, practice and reproduction of internal democracy, guaranteeing a profound and active internal political life." These qualities and styles are not habitual for parties of Marxist-Leninist origins, however.
The Framework Document itself is not consistent on this crucial point. Internal differences, it says, "should be handled in a framework of respect, through criticism and self-criticism on an ethical, constructive basis. We must develop a culture of debate within the party, with political responsibility and maturity, that allows us to work on the basis of common ground and consensus, to identify our differences and agree on how to handle them." For all that, the document is not free of Leninist holdovers that make its declaration of "internal democracy" ambiguous. For example, it goes on to say that the party’s "structure and functioning" should be based "on the interrelation between centralism and democracy." Even more striking, it asserts that "differences and opinions in the party should not take the form of tendencies." The document’s see-sawing between upper and lower case in writing "party" reflects a certain, perhaps unconscious, ambiguity between multi-party and single-party notions and, at an internal level, between the idea of a party as a tool and a party as a icon.
An ideologically heterogeneous LeftThe dissidents who have left the URNG and are preparing to regroup under the ANN or the National Democratic Leftist Union now disagree with some of these concepts, although they recognize they once shared them. As one of them explained, "We said in the URNG that we’re going to form a party without internal tendencies. The Left has always tried to build single-minded, solidly united parties. But the reality is diversity." Sketching out a historically debatable contrast with the Right, another added, "It is easier to agree to defend privileges, like the Right does, than to translate dreams and utopias into strategies and policies. The Left doesn’t have that kind of ideological homogeneity."
Continuing this thought, he said, "The challenge lies in how to organize a diverse, disperse Left. If the URNG has been unable to hold together the Left that came through the war together, it is even less likely to be able to bring together other tendencies or form alliances with them. In contrast, we have to look to the experience in Uruguay, where the Broad Front is made up of something like 21 small parties and has governed Montevideo and become the second largest expression in the country. This is a functionalist solution to the divisions on the left."
Persistent caudillismoThere is, however, an even deeper problem here, related to the concept of leadership. Robert Fossaert, a leading French Socialist theoretician, summed it up brilliantly in 1980 in discussing the use of the term "people" in Soviet-style popular socialist democracies: "When they talk about the state they talk about the ‘People’s State,’ for example in the Constitutions. Next, the ‘people’ gets reduced to the urban ‘Working Class.’ Then the urban working class is reduced to the ‘Party,’ and then the party is reduced to the ‘Central Committee’ or even the ‘Politburo.’ Finally, everything is reduced to the ‘General Secretary,’ to Lenin, Stalin, Khrushov or Breshnev. We have gone back to Louis XIV’s ‘I am the State.’"
The URNG’s current leaders say that the party’s Political Council repeatedly admonished Pablo Monsanto to act as the party’s general secretary in accord with established party agreements and not simply as he saw fit, as though he were still commanding a guerrilla army. They maintain that it was precisely for this reason, among others, that another slate ran against him when his first term was over. Although it took another eight months for Monsanto to announce his decision to leave the URNG, he began publicly distancing himself from the party’s new leadership during that time.
It is impossible not to wonder whether the leadership style within Leninist parties has been transculturally translated in Latin America as "caudillismo," that historical tendency to create political strongmen of one stripe or another. We are used to talking about Conservative and Liberal caudillos, such as Carrera or Justo Rufino Barrios in Guatemala or Emiliano Chamorro or Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua. But what in fact were Haya de la Torre in Peru, Carranza, Obregón or Calles in Mexico, Perón in Argentina, to look just at the 20th century? Isn’t the caudillo phenomenon that is endemic in our cultures appearing all too often on the left as well? Hasn’t Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua demonstrated this in his battle against his rival caudillo, Arnoldo Alemán? Or Shafick Handal and Facundo Guardado in El Salvador, in their mutual confrontation and distancing? Hasn’t it been shown even by Figueres in Costa Rica’s democracy?
Caudillos want to be caudillos forever or if not they want at the very least to be the power behind the throne. And they never retire. Isn’t that being demonstrated in Guatemala today by Pablo Monsanto’s decision to move to another political group now that his leadership is no longer recognized in the URNG? Otherwise, it is striking that Nineth Montenegro, who has called for modernization within the organized Left, for a "new generation" of leaders to take the place of those "who are now seventy and eighty years old," has ended up forming a dissident team with Pablo Monsanto and Alfonso Bauer Páiz even though she says she is not interested in a "cult of political figures."
I posed this question to some of the dissidents who have followed Pablo Monsanto. Their answer is complex. "The ‘revolutionary tendency’ wasn’t Pablo’s initiative," one of them explained. "The middle-ranking members who came out of the FAR were the ones saying, define yourselves! Nonetheless, the tendency wouldn’t be what it is if Pablo weren’t in it. In the General Assembly the ‘revolutionary tendency’—essentially the FAR—won 46% of the vote and 8 of the 17 departmental secretariats. But the split didn’t occur because Pablo lost the elections. In addition, caudillismo has its advantages, which is a historically recognized fact. If not, anyone could make proposals. It’s a part of our national culture."
The isolation of the vanguardsThe Left would do well to consider seriously whether this kind of caudillo leadership isn’t one of the most important factors in its isolation. The vast majority of leftist leaders began their political paths by working with people who were exploited, oppressed and discriminated against, even if their own social origins may have been quite different. In the context of the cold war and the national security doctrine, their paths led them to the clandestinity of insurgency, where they necessarily lost contact with the majority of people, with "the masses." In that setting, the utopias became doubly utopian in the sense that it became hard to measure the distance that always separates them from the possible policies that might bring them a little closer to reality.
Leaders became a mix of guide and patriarch or matriarch. In the hard isolation of clandestinity, their ideological awareness of being at the cutting edge of historical progress, or in more traditional terms, "in the vanguard," was subjectively reinforced. Along with this came an arrogant sense of always being right in analyzing reality and the "objective and subjective conditions." Even in the practice of criticism and self-criticism, they hung on to that sense of being absolutely right. Rarely did they have the kind of humility that comes from contact with reality, with the real conditions that are hard to fit into the positivist certainties that guide their strategies. As in all sciences, and especially in politics, which is not only a science but also an art, one has to work by "trial and error." Otherwise, the vanguard’s isolation exacts a high toll. When people leave clandestinity, especially in a case like Guatemala after a long war, they have so much to do to build the party that they rarely return to the environments where their passion for justice was born. They don’t go back to visit and listen to the people who are suffering in their towns and their neighborhoods, their jobs, their small houses or shacks.
Ethical clarity: The Framework Document for the URNG’s First Congress shows a great deal of clarity on some of these points. When it speaks, for example, of the need to "establish a new ethics" in the party, it emphasizes that it should be based on "universally accepted ethical values and principles." In other words, it recognizes that the party must go beyond "revolutionary" ethics, which has engendered not only many heroic sacrifices but also many lies, reticence, sterile parroting, mediocrity and injustice—not to mention concentration camps and killings—based on the notion that the end justifies the means. The Framework Document, in contrast, affirms that "the party’s transforming ideological values mean ensuring that the objectives we propose and the means to attain them are coherent."
Coherent means and ends
Learning to listenThe document also reveals clarity within the party on the need for new ways to relate to "the social sectors." It says, "The Party must understand that to win the support of these social sectors, it must respond to and take up their proposals, find viable solutions as a political force on the national scene... [It must understand] that is not enough to be the historical revolutionary movement, that as a political force it will be subject to a social audit, and [it must] see this as an opportunity for growth." And there is clarity that this will require "broad social participation and internal democratization," revealing a renunciation of that typical leadership style that works by laying down the line.
Beyond social classesAlthough the document still speaks of "cadres" and "masses," it recognizes, in structural terms, that "the social matrix is more complex than the concept of class structure," and in ethical terms, that "collective responsibility does not eliminate personal responsibility." It directs the party not to "separate itself from the masses" but rather "to learn to listen and identify" with them, "and based on that, to increase their political awareness and its own awareness. It is a serious mistake to place oneself above the masses, to underestimate their demands and struggles, to favor abstract concepts to stay on good terms with everyone, or to privilege relations between leaders or elites." The document calls on the party "to transcend electoral visions... and establish a permanent relation [with the social sectors] based on a program, social participation, consultation, and the building of alliances and consensus" and to be "an instrument of the masses, of orientation, not imposition, subordination or bureaucratic command. The community and social movements’ institutions and organizations are not the Party’s transmission belts."
Old habits and a dearth of leadersOne could hardly get any clearer on the concept of a new left party. Of course, putting this concept into practice is exquisitely difficult. To begin with, leftist leaders and activists still carry around with them many long years of other values, habits and practices. Recently, for example, during Alba Estela Maldonado’s first visit to Ixcán, a municipality the ANN won, some people left after the break, skipping the second part of the meeting because they felt she had a very top-down attitude, with little room for dialogue. This may explain why Edelberto Torres Rivas maintains that "modernization [of the Left] begins by electing young leaders."
There is also a second factor. The war and the counterinsurgency violently robbed both the URNG and other leftist political forces of many activists and leaders, leaving the others overwhelmed with work. Many are also making great efforts to continue educating themselves, even returning to school and university after years of being out of the habit not of thinking but of studying. Students in a current public policy master’s program at the Rafael Landívar University include Nineth Montenegro, whose origins are in the social left; Enrique Corral of the URNG; and Adrián Zapata of the dissident "revolutionary tendency."
Has the Left turned pink?Dissidents charge that the URNG, given the ideological adversity, has moved to the center, even to the right. As one of them argued, "This move is based on a bad interpretation of the need for broad alliances. The Left shouldn’t fade to "pink," shouldn’t renounce its identity, even if it has to make alliances with the Castillos [owners of the brewery Cervecería Centroamericana] or the Gutiérrez family [owners of the transnational fried chicken chain Pollo Campero]. We’ve stopped demanding socialism, stopped using the word imperialism, although the Empire has never been stronger. We act as if the utopian idea of the socialization of wealth no longer made sense, because of that notion that ideologies are over. This is an ideological explanation of our divisions."
No exclusions, full democracyA URNG leader explained that the Framework Document speaks of socialism as "a regime for human development that counters the logic of individualism and the egotism of money with that of humanism and rationality; a system that eliminates the economic basis of the current destruction of nature; a system that guides, promotes and supports the full development of the productive forces and is able to put the social wealth to increase people’s well-being and development within everyone’s reach, in the framework of respect for dignity and the free expression of ideas. We conceive of the new socialism as a society without privations, exclusions, discrimination and social marginalization, where social co-existence in a full democracy is guaranteed."
The document also says that "the Party defends the values of progress, social transformation and the spiritual emancipation of humanity that socialist thinking has bequeathed us ...and that we must interpret and creatively apply to Guatemalan reality. Recovering, incorporating and projecting the great common legacy of values accumulated over our people’s history and reflecting Guatemala’s multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual reality… The leftist, revolutionary essence of our Party... includes the profound questioning of the capitalist system, which in reproducing social classes and the exploitation of the labor force, reproduces the concentration of wealth in a few hands and condemns the vast majority of the Guatemalan population to poverty and social marginalization."
The document concludes, "The URNG’s revolutionary nature...implies the construction of an alternative socialism where social justice, real democracy, equity between men and women, and respect for and recognition of indigenous peoples reigns. We are not speaking of historical determinism, or of a mechanistic focus on the economic sphere, but rather of the reconstruction of an alternative historical project to capitalism. It is an economic, political, social and ethical project."
Reading the document, one sees that indeed, it does not speak of imperialism, but it is also debatable whether "imperialism" is the best theoretical interpretation of capitalism’s current historical phase. The Framework Document speaks about "building a socialism that takes into account the global reality of the 21st century," defining "globalization" as "the phase of development of capitalist exploitation at a global level;" with "three large blocs: North America, led by the United States; the European Union...and the Asian bloc, led by Japan." It distinguishes the United States as "the military superpower."
The Left in the middle?URNG dissidents also mention another explanation for the split. "The country’s situation is very complex. Anyone who isn’t confused is simply ill informed. There’s a new contradiction between the oligarchy and the nouveau riche that grew out of the mafias and has state power in its hands. It’s easy to say that we should place ourselves in an equidistant position between the two, or even that we should we help the mafias from time to time to hurt the oligarchy. But those who say this do not understand what’s at stake. If the mafias become embedded and consolidated in the state, they would pose a strategic risk to the democratic process. Furthermore, they don’t have interests in the country’s productive structure and so make better partners for international neoliberalism. In contrast, the relationship between the oligarchy, which does have roots in national production, and the Empire has become a problematic one. Our immediate enemy must be the FRG [Guatemalan Republican Front, led by retired General Efraín Ríos Montt] and its project, to keep the mafias from consolidating themselves. This is a political explanation for our divisions."
Real differences or a The obvious question is how these differences translate in practice. One representative of the dissidents responded this way: "There you have Palma Lau [a former commander of ORPA, one of the four guerrilla forces] working first in the SAAS [the Secretariat for Administrative Affairs for Presidential Security, which is supposed to succeed the Presidential General Staff in the not too distant future] and then in CONTIERRA [the Presidential office to resolve land disputes]. And look at what the URNG bench has done in Congress, voting along with the FRG. For us, the most important thing was to create a broad leftist political front."
fight for hegemony?
The URNG’s current leaders are indignant over such accusations. They argue that voting for the financial laws does not mean agreeing with the FRG, since the FRG itself not only put off voting on the laws but also tried to rewrite them against the explicit advice of the president of the Bank of Guatemala. In the end, they voted for the laws without altering them only because of tremendous pressure from the IMF and World Bank, which conditioned an agreement and loans on their approval. In good dissident leftist logic, voting for the financial laws, which among other things make it more difficult to launder money in Guatemala, would run squarely against mafia interests.
With respect to the election of Sergio Morales Alvarado as the new Human Rights Ombudsperson, it was not that the URNG agreed with the FRG but that the FRG went along with the human rights organizations’ evaluations of the candidates. Furthermore, Palma Lau’s case is like that of several other leftists, both independents and party members, who made the personal decision to work within the government. Such people include Rokael Cardona in Decentralization, Víctor Hugo Godoy in Human Rights and Labor, Miguel Angel Reyes in the President’s Technical Secretariat, Edgar Gutiérrez in Strategic Affairs and Demetrio Cojtí in Education, among others. Their decisions would have to be evaluated, but in no case was it a group rather than individual decision.
The Framework Document contains two passages that appear to try to respond to these accusations. The first speaks of a "political problem that has become more serious since mid-2000.... It is a clear political struggle among factions to win hegemony in the Party’s direction, using procedures and methods that have severely damaged the URNG and its internal unity."
The second passage is more general, aiming to address the internal differences respectfully. "We cannot continue to act," it says, "on the basis of disinformation, jokes, disqualification, slander and conspiracy."
The habit of mutual disqualificationWhatever the disagreements are between those still in the URNG and those who have left—both sides say that fewer than 40 people so far have renounced party affiliation, which requires certain legal steps—"in our country we mutually disqualify each other," as Edelberto Torres Rivas says. Furthermore, the Framework Document recognizes that the URNG’s General Command did not adequately think through the dissolution of the four guerrilla forces and their merger into a single party.
It is not surprising that today’s dissidents, mostly FAR members, also allude to a "subjective" problem: their visceral and ethical rejection of Rodrigo Asturias (Gaspar Ilom), former ORPA commander and General Command member, and now a member of the URNG’s Political Council. When an ORPA commando kidnapped an elderly female member of the Novella family—which has a monopoly on cement production in Guatemala—two months before the conclusion of the peace talks, thus jeopardizing the negotiations, the FAR demanded that Ilom resign from all of his posts. They still keep this debt hanging over him, and their rejection has been sharpened by his Social Democratic leanings and purported negotiations with the oligarchy, which has also not forgiven him for the Novella kidnapping.
The "New Nation": The URNG and what the dissidents call the "revolutionary tendency" are currently arguing before the Supreme Electoral Tribunal over control of the political structure they used in the 1999 elections: the New Nation Alliance. The "revolutionary tendency" registered the name five minutes before the URNG. Their respective roles in constructing a new nation underlie this dispute. According to the Framework Document, the URNG "proposes four large national objectives to the people of Guatemala: building a new nation, achieving full democracy, building a democratic state with a rule of law and building an alternative development model."
The apple of discord
The building of a new nation has become the apple of discord not least of all because of the nature of the project. This point in the document maintains that "the country should reflect its multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual nature in all spheres of life and social and political organization." In other words, it has its sights set on new relations with the indigenous Mayans, who make up the majority of Guatemala’s population and whom the extreme rightwing FRG is also trying to woo and to organize through the former Civil Self-Defense Patrols.
The social and cultural LeftThis is a brief analysis of the organized political Left. Guatemala also has a social and cultural Left, whose most important manifestations include the National Coalition of Peasant Organizations; human rights, pro-justice and anti-impunity movements; the feminist movement; some Mayan indigenous movements and the Monsignor Gerardi movement. Intellectuals and prominent figures such as Rigoberta Menchú and Helen Mack, who may or may not belong to organizations, are also in this category.
The University of San Carlos, once the cradle of both responsible and irresponsible leftists and alma mater of innumerable martyrs and exiles, is according to José García Noval currently undergoing the greatest ethical crisis in its history in all areas of university life: teaching, research, community service. It has also been poisoned by the bite of corruption.
Rosalina Tuyuc of the National Coalition of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA), who has a long and honest trajectory, describes the Left as "people and sectors that aspire to make fundamental changes on behalf of the poor." She thus goes so far as to say that "it’s not a question of left or right, only of justice." A similar thinking person, Edelberto Torres Rivas, says that "being on the left is a state of mind and this state of mind can be found in the country." But he also thinks that "an activist Left, an organizational commitment, doesn’t exist," because he believes "the conflict in Guatemala was led by an organization that did not win the backing of the masses" or alter the productive process, both of which did occur in Nicaragua and El Salvador. In Guatemala, he says, "being on the left means recognizing oneself as heir to the October Revolution, especially the Arbenz revolution. It also means being willing to make one’s contribution to changing the country in order to build a country with more justice, equality and solidarity."
State of mind or In its Framework Document, the URNG affirms its conviction that the role of leftist political parties as intermediaries for social interests with the state or government cannot be replaced. It also recognizes self-critically that it "remains distant from the problems and struggles going on in the country, like the human rights and pro-justice movements...or migrant issues."
Certainly, the URNG seems very distant from the struggle to ensure the success of efforts to challenge impunity, like the trials for the Xaman massacre or the investigations and trials related to the assassination of Myrna Mack and Bishop Gerardi. This kind of distance is even more serious considering the mark that the human rights, pro-justice and anti-impunity groups and their leaders made in the Consultative Group meeting by speaking out the loudest.
Nineth Montenegro, who joined party politics from the human rights movement, explains that what has separated her from the organized Left is "a divisive and invisible but very strong historical line between the social movements and the armed movement, in the work methods and the [open] relations with society."
Different dimensions to the struggleThe URNG recognizes its responsibility for the lack of compliance with the Peace Accords by "not drafting them as an instrument for political struggle in order to strengthen the social struggle." This acknowledgement by one of the signatories to the accords is not only deplorable, but could end up defeatist.
The most troubling thing here is the URNG’s apparent inability to effectively defend the Peace Accords, which it negotiated so brilliantly. Its fundamental problem seems to be the change in the dimensions of its struggle. During the war, it effectively led a small guerrilla force in small, distant, inhospitable and relatively defendable territories thanks to the help of Civil Populations in Resistance. Now, however, it finds itself in a different situation. With relatively few leaders and active members and significantly less diplomatic support than it enjoyed in negotiating the Peace Accords, it must now work on the national scale of country and state, sustained by the vote of only 263,000 people, or 12.3% of the voters. And it must do this in a country where a near majority opt for "the non-party of non-voters," to borrow the words of "third way" sociologist Anthony Giddens to refer to the absenteeism in other countries.
What the URNG still In its Framework Document, the URNG still seems to confuse "taking" power in a guerrilla war, which it mentions several times, with "access" to power in times of peace, which it also discusses. The URNG has not yet been able to develop or assume a serious public criticism of the failures of soviet-style communist parties, nor has it yet distanced itself from the Chinese Communist Party’s methods. In recognizing the values of the Cuban epic national resistance to the US imperial will, it has been unable to distance itself from that country’s current gerontocracy. It merely repeats commonplaces, neglecting to mention something as current and important as the solidarity of Cuban doctors in Guatemala and other Central American countries. One cannot speak of a socialist project today without critically confronting the historical forms socialism has taken.
hesitates to criticize
In its analysis of the armed conflict in Guatemala, the URNG also remains unable to critically put in its place what it calls "the Concuá experience," a profoundly adventurist 1962 campaign. Nor has it evaluated whether the political-military organizations didn’t irresponsibly contribute to the euphoria of the uprisings and insurgency in the highlands in 1980 without adequately considering whether they had sufficient capacity to defend the mostly indigenous communities from the army’s scorched earth policy. This aptly named policy of state terrorism involved horrendous massacres and led to the anguishing flight of enormous numbers of internally displaced people and refugees.
The Document also fails to reflect on the possible contradiction between full development of the productive forces and protection of the environment. Its analysis of the links between multi-class and ethnic interests in the national and global context could be more thorough. Its analysis of globalization could also be improved, especially by considering that dialectic pole of globalization made up of ethnic, national, regional, religious and other identities. The party still has an opportunity to do so, since it presented the Framework Document as a draft that will be revised to take into account contributions made during the congress.
The link between ethics and politicsAll paths lead to the problem of ethics. This is true in part because a very important part of ethical behavior is to prepare oneself to carry out one’s professed commitments with competence, even with excellence when possible. Incompetently entering politics is the mother of all corruption, followed closely by the use of manipulations, Machiavellian maneuvers and double standards with one’s colleagues and companions.
The Framework Document states that "our ideology expresses the ethical ideals of socialism, which we conceive as a regime for human development that opposes the logic of individualism and egotism." It adds that "the URNG believes in solidarity and practice" and that "the URNG should be a party in which ethics and politics are indivisibly linked." In this context, it speaks of respecting "the spirituality and religiosity of our people...which strengthens the contents and development of the revolution." It talks of the "participation and full exercise of the identity and rights of indigenous peoples" and adds that "young people must enrich the historical revolutionary project." Finally—and this is perhaps the most emphasized, reiterated point in the Document—it speaks of "full respect for the dignity and integrity of women, as well as the principle of the equal rights and opportunities between women and men."
Arnoldo Noriega: Two years ago, Arnoldo Noriega, the URNG representative to the Commission to Accompany Implementation of the Peace Accords, was carrying out his duties with remarkable competence. This was especially noticeable in the negotiations that year over the Fiscal Pact and the Political Agreement to put it into effect. A number of people thought he might well become the URNG’s presidential candidate because of his striking intelligence, relative youth—he is in his early 40s—and excellent relations with other members of the Accompaniment Commission: banker Eduardo González, union leader José Pinzón and former Secretary for Peace Raquel Zelaya.
Accused of sexual abuse
Several months later, Norma Cruz Córdoba, a URNG activist who had been Noriega’s partner from 1985 to 1998, publicly denounced him for sexually abusing her daughter, Claudia Hernández Cruz. Sources close to Cruz say she had included Noriega in the list of guests she drew up for Claudia’s 15th birthday. Although the two had been separated for two years and their son was born after that separation, they had remained friends. When Claudia saw the list, she underwent a profound crisis and was finally able to tell her mother of having suffered sexual abuse by Noriega for ten years, starting when she was 5.
Noriega’s political trajectoryArnoldo Noriega studied at Loyola High School. He worked with the Popular Revolutionary Bloc as part of the organization of revolutionary Christians, and was imprisoned for a time. He joined the Jesuits in 1982 but left the order three years later, while he was studying humanities in Nicaragua. It was there, according to URNG sources, that the EGP contacted him and there too that he began his relationship with Norma Cruz, whose marriage to a revolutionary activist was breaking up. Claudia was born from that marriage in 1985. The EGP asked Arnoldo to return to Guatemala to rebuild revolutionary work with Christian groups.
At this point, Norma Cruz settled in El Salvador with her daughter. With great skill, Noriega built a youth development NGO that gave him the cover to work with other NGOs, Christian groups and communities, and he was able bring Cruz and her daughter to Guatemala. In the late 1980s, Noriega played a role in creating the Christian Sector Team in the context of the opening of the peace talks, and established relations with the Reconciliation Commission, born out of the Esquipulas II Accords. When the Technical Commission to Support Refugees was created in the early 1990s, Noriega joined it along with Alfonso Bauer Páiz, Ricardo Stein, the late Lars Franklin of the UN Development Program, current mayor of Ixcán Marcos Ramírez and others. He proved to be a good organizer and political negotiator.
Since Noriega could move about legally in 1995-1996, when the peace talks were advancing rapidly, Rolando Morán began to call on him for support in establishing and maintaining other ties. Later, Noriega accompanied Morán to international talks in Mexico and Madrid. In that time, he and several other members were named to the EGP National Directorate. After the Peace Accords were signed, the URNG named Pablo Monsanto as its representative in the Accompaniment Commission and Arnoldo Noriega was designated as his assistant.
Noriega was elected to the URNG’s first 40-member Council, although not to the Provisional General Directorate later formed out of the Council to handle the guerrilla organization’s legalization as a party. He founded the Institute for Political, Economic and Social Studies (IPES), an NGO that provided analysis and support to the URNG’s representative in the Accompaniment Commission. Morán died at the end of 1998, and a year later Noriega was elected to the URNG’s National Executive Committee, in the same election in which Pablo Monsanto was elected general secretary. Noriega succeeded Monsanto in the Accompaniment Commission, where he played an important role in the negotiations over the Fiscal Pact. He was also put in charge of international relations. He was not on the list of candidates for Congress in the 1999 elections.
The taste of powerArnoldo Noriega’s merits as a revolutionary in the URNG are undeniable. How do they jibe with the accusation of sexual abuse leveled against him by his stepdaughter? URNG sources say the key lies in "the scent and taste of power." He was swayed by this, they say, and was not economically austere. His introverted temperament also played a role in keeping his behavior in interpersonal relations out of sight. It seems that he had other relations alongside his relationship with Norma Cruz, and used the organization’s resources for them.
"This is not to deny that he was disciplined and committed," one person commented, "but you can’t disassociate these things from the whole of his persona." Some of his colleagues have described him as immature and unstable. With respect to his political tasks, "when he saw an opportunity to rise up a step, he left the people below him behind." These sources said that they warned Rolando Morán about Noriega’s "ambition and opportunism," but Morán replied that he saw "a lot of potential" in him. These same sources say that they had to build a party in 15 departments, but Noriega was no help. "Just the opposite, he began to say that those who came down from the mountains hadn’t adapted to the new political realities. When he realized that he wasn’t going to be in a winning spot on the Congress slate, he withdrew his name."
With respect to his work in the Fiscal Pact negotiations, one of these sources said, "he handled things intelligently, but by building alliances with private enterprise behind the URNG’s back, which is why a powerful sector of private enterprise helped build his image. When we reacted strongly, he staunchly defended his conduct and began to withhold information."
We imagined a conspiracyAnother source, a URNG dissident, said, "the EGP’s historical leadership has taken a fundamentalist view of the case. They don’t like IPES because of Noriega’s lifestyle, and because he gave a role in it to FAR activists. They see him as opportunistic. They refused to vote for him when we had to replace Palma Lau on the National Executive Committee, while people from the FAR and the PGT did vote for him [this seems to vary from the version given by current URNG leaders]. For this reason, we first thought it was a conspiracy against Arnoldo. But then mid-ranking FAR members told Pablo to distance himself from IPES and Arnoldo. Furthermore, there’s the problem of IPES’ murky finances. They didn’t pay their Social Security taxes, which Arnoldo says was due to corruption of his IPES collaborators, but what is clear is how it was used. It’s a sad story."
"How can the man who Norma Cruz Córdoba charges that the day her daughter Claudia told her what happened, she called Noriega and confronted him with the accusation and he didn’t deny it then. When the situation became public, however, sources from the URNG and the "revolutionary tendency" say they tried to talk with Noriega and he denied everything.
abused my daughter represent us?"
A URNG dissident said they suggested to Monsanto that Noriega "lower his political profile and leave the country for a while; but Pablo preferred to talk to Arnoldo, who denied the accusation." Some current URNG leaders have confirmed that the party recommended that all three—he, the mother and the daughter—get treatment. Both sources said that Noriega proposed that the three of them travel to Mexico to see a former psychiatrist of his. They also said that Cruz rejected the proposal because she could not leave her job and did not want to discuss the issue outside of the country, nor did she feel that her daughter, as the victim, should be obliged to leave it.
URNG sources say that after the accusation, Noriega asked for bodyguards and a special car. Some URNG leaders do not approve of such measures, which cannot help but be symbolic even for former general commanders much less other leaders. The situation was becoming untenable because of the publicity given to the accusation and Cruz’s firm insistence on it. "She came and told us, ‘I don’t want to be divisive, but how is it possible that the man who raped my daughter is the URNG’S international representative, is accompanying the peace process?’ And we told her she’d have to take this issue to the general secretary."
This source continued, "The issue became more serious when Arnoldo Noriega tried to save his own image and political career at the party’s cost, by accusing the EGP of selling an island on the coast of Mexico that supposedly served as a rear guard and arms deposit during the war and was a gift of the Mexican government. Of course we had a rear guard in Mexico. Everyone knows it. But we never had any land, much less an island. Island might have been a pseudonym to refer to any place used by the rear guard."
Sanctioned by the Both Norma Cruz and Arnoldo Noriega were called before the National Executive Committee. She appeared; he did not. A commission made up of the three former general commanders was named to look into the case. The party’s Honor Tribunal accepted the commission’s recommendation that Noriega be removed from the public posts of international representative and Accompaniment Commission member and also censured him for causing division, but did not remove him from the National Executive Committee as he had been elected by the General Assembly.
URNG’s honor tribunal
The accusation was also in the courts. "If we do not show sensitivity towards her and anyone who’s gone through such a thing, where is our ethical coherence?" says one current URNG leader. "It also seems clear that Arnoldo used his authority as Norma’s political superior to distance her on more than a few occasions from her daughter and take advantage of the girl in her absence. To top it off, he used houses lent by other organizations for political purposes to carry out his aberrations. And now he’s hired extremely expensive lawyers to defend him."
Arnoldo Noriega resigned his post on the National Executive Committee and did not run as a candidate in the August 2001 elections, in which Norma Cruz was elected as an alternate to the Committee.
Out on bail and standing trialOn April 23 of this year, the trial against Arnoldo Noriega began. The judge had ordered him detained but allowed him to be provisionally let out on bail. Television stations gave some coverage to the start of the trial, but otherwise the media have scarcely reported on it. Thus far, both the prosecution and defense have presented their arguments and witnesses, but the scant media coverage makes it difficult to discuss the arguments presented by the two sides. The defense appears to be building its case on the public, political and social honorability of the accused, and charging that the accusation is part of a political conspiracy against him.
Meanwhile, Noriega is rebuilding IPES as FUNDEMOS, the Center for Research into Development and Democracy, which publishes the electronic bulletin Pulso: Perspectiva nacional e internacional. Enrique Álvarez, one of his collaborators in IPES, is trying it again with "Incidencia Democrática," working with Otto Zeissig of the "revolutionary tendency". They are also publishing another electronic bulletin, Reporte Diario de análisis y tendencias.
Although Arnoldo Noriega should be presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and as sad and painful as this case may be, it should not be forgotten that women do not tend to invent these charges. This is especially true in Guatemala. It is extremely hard to go through a case like this, given how our machista culture forces women to bear the burden of proof. There are many lessons to be learned from this case when we reflect on the links between ethics and politics.
A sense of historyIs it worth writing about the Left? If it’s a question of writing to create myths and dress up political tendencies that are trying to realize utopias in a literal way, it’s not worth the trouble. As Manuel Castells says, "All utopias lead to terror if you seriously try to put them into practice." The Christian churches did it when they invented inquisitions and witch-hunts to maintain doctrinal purity, and they are doing it today to strengthen their authority. Castells continues, "Theories and their inseparable ideological narratives can be [and have been] useful tools to understand and thus guide collective action. But only as tools, never as schemas to be reproduced with all their elegant coherence. Because such efforts are, in the best of cases, cynical rationalizations of personal or group interests. At worst, they become sources of political fundamentalism," something the Bin Ladens and Bushes, the Hamas and Sharons of this world have accustomed us to in our times. Castells affirms, however, that "dreams and projects are the cloth from which social change is made" and that the possibility of revolutions that are "peaceful or not, or partly so" is not a thing of the past, as the events of South Africa have shown, of course incorporating into our case the fact that "there is no sense of history beyond the history we feel."
It is important to write about the Left if, beyond the fanaticism and the terrible ethical incoherence into which we can and do fall, we want to continue striving towards greater equality, towards a world in which people plant and eat the fruit they harvest, build and can live in what they have built. It is important if we don’t want to see society as inevitably hierarchic, in other words, if we want to live in a world where people can live in dignity and don’t have to call anyone sir. The issue of the fight for equality is, as Norberto Bobbie said, what always distinguishes the Left from the Right. He also said, however, that "the reason behind the Left’s lack of direction is that problems have arisen in the modern world which the traditional leftist movements never discussed, and some of the hypotheses on which they built their strength and their plans for the transformation of society have not materialized."
In any case, in the wake of the scandals and frauds at Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, Xerox, Vivendi and so many other companies, we have eloquent evidence that corruption is to be found not only in the state, as market profits and especially financial speculation have eaten away at the celebrated honesty of business. Perhaps the emperor is, after old, more naked than it might seem. In the world in which we live, that would be no surprise either.
Casting our lots with the poorJuly 13 of this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the heroic death of Fernando Hoyos, a Spanish Jesuit who became a Guatemalan citizen and finally decided to join the Guatemalan revolution with the EGP. No one knows where he is buried. He died with greatness and weakness, wounded and exhausted, disappearing under the rapid waters of the Río San Juan. Like all personal options for the poor, his is there and is ethically valuable. He tried, as José Martí wanted to do, and as Hoyos often repeated, "to cast his lot with the poor of the earth."
Surrounded by increasing numbers of poor, it us up to us today to continue to cast our lot with them. And most especially, it is up to us to cast our lot with women. The possibility of achieving equity and justice in many areas of the human adventure depends on whether society can legally ensure the equality of women and men, whether cultures can begin to unmask their machista values and show the way to transform them. For this reason, too, to remind us of this challenge that is still pending, there is a reason to write about the Left.