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  Number 181 | Agosto 1996
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Guatemala

The Clinton Report and The Arzú Plan

After six months in power, the Arzú government has ready a plan to “modernize” the Guatemalan state. It is a process that could last 25 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the C.I.A. say that they have “corrected” the past errors they committed here.

Gonzalo Guerrero

Fifteen months ago the President of the United States ordered a high level investigation of US intelligence agency activities in Guatemala, especially related to "the torture, disappearance or death of United States citizens in Guatemala since 1984."

The Clinton administration was concerned about accusations that the CIA had links to Guatemalan army officers involved in human rights violations, and that it had not reported the reality of that Central American country to Congress or the State Department.

An Incomplete History

The report, finished and delivered on June 28, was considered "unprecedented." But for those who expected some change in attitudes and agendas created during the Cold War, it offers very little. (All excerpts from this report are retranslated from the Spanish.)

"The end of the Cold War has led to a gradual drop in financing levels for the Guatemala CIA office, but the effect of this drop has been limited in terms of the CIA's work methods and of the mentality of CIA officers working in Guatemala," the report states.

"US officials in Guatemala," it adds, "continue to see communist insurgents as the main enemy, and view the Guatemalan government and its security forces as partners in the struggle against a common enemy and against new threats such as illegal drug trafficking and illegal immigrants."

Clinton requested the investigation after accusations that the CIA had refused to inform other government offices about the cases of guerrilla Efraín Bámaca and of Michael Devine, the US citizen murdered in Petén. There were also accusations that a US agent had links to Guatemalan agents involved in the kidnapping, torture and rape of US Ursuline nun Diana Ortiz.

The report looks at nine cases of disappearances, assassinations, attacks and kidnappings involving US citizens. In the Bámaca case, his wife, Jennifer Harbury, is North American.

The investigative commission's restricted mandate that all the cases be specifically related to US citizens, was the first sign that the story would not be complete. In fact, limiting the investigation echoes the accusation of Diana Ortiz against the attitude of "Alejandro," the North American who "rescued" her from her captors after she had been kidnapped, tortured and raped in 1989. Ortiz spoke of this man's fury when he found out that Guatemalan security agents had tortured a "North American," emphasizing only the victim's identity and not the atrocities.

"Unscrupulous" Partners

The report summarizes US policy objectives in Guatemala: support the transition to and strengthening of the civil and democratic government, promote human rights and the rule of law, support economic growth, combat drug trafficking, fight the communist insurgency, and advance the peace process between the government and the guerrillas.

The US intelligence offices in both Washington and Guatemala were directed to support these goals. To achieve them, the CIA had to "work closely with Guatemalan security and intelligence forces and develop intelligence sources," says the report. It continues: "Although CIA goals in Guatemala were legitimate, fulfilling them and maintaining influence in Guatemala required that the CIA maintain links with unscrupulous individuals and groups. The human rights record of Guatemalan security forces is widely known as reprehensible, and although the CIA made efforts to improve their conduct, serious human rights abuses continued, and some of the closest contacts for the CIA office were participants in this problem."

Human Rights as Molestation

The report clearly explains why respect for human rights is relevant for intelligence services: "Ignoring the importance of human rights greatly harms our mission. We are under heavy scrutiny." The message is clear: the end continues to justify the means, but the new relevance of human rights in the world today adds a new component to the calculation.

A secret cable sent from the CIA's Virginia headquarters to its Guatemala office says it all about the significance of human rights to US intelligence agencies: "We regret having to inform you that it is once again time to update the human rights report. And since there is no end in sight to this, we will always have to fulfill this requirement."

The primary change in the "intelligence community" in recent years is the incorporation into its mandate of a pro human rights discourse. But clearly the fulfillment of the primordial goal-- protect US security interests in Guatemala-->vastly overshadows the objective of "improving the human rights situation and rule of law in Guatemala."

According to the report, the CIA considered Guatemalan security forces as primary allies in the anti communist fight. Its interest in maintaining good relations with the Guatemalan army intelligence office (D 2 or G 2) provoked a "loss of objectivity" by the CIA in Guatemala and resulted in the tendency to question or suppress unfavorable reports, while the positive reports were well received and amply distributed.

Bámaca: Contradictions

In the last four years, US intelligence services in Guatemala sent 40 cables to their US offices about the situation of guerrilla leader "Everardo" (Efraín Bámaca), captured by the army in March 1992. The contradictions among intelligence service informants are so notorious that it is difficult to distinguish between information and disinformation. This summary of some of the information from CIA informants within the Guatemalan army sent to the United States demonstrates this:

* Everardo is in good condition, receiving care from the army, and is fully cooperating with his captors.

* Everardo died in combat in El Quiché.

* Bámaca is alive and in a clandestine army jail. (Information is given that these jails have always existed in Guatemala and it is quite common for imprisoned guerrillas to remain there incommunicado, to be interrogated and then assassinated after giving useful information.)

* Bámaca was assassinated after being interrogated.

* Army intelligence officers took Bámaca to an undisclosed place.

* The information that Bámaca was captured alive by the army is part of the guerrilla propaganda campaign. Bámaca died in combat or shortly after being captured by the army.

* Bámaca, lightly injured in combat, was captured by the army and interrogated in Retalhuleu and then in San Marcos. Given his importance and his numerous escape attempts, he was put in a full body cast to prevent his escape. After a month of interrogation, he was taken to an unknown location, probably near the ocean, in a helicopter.

* Colonel Julio Alpírez, Major Raúl Oliva and Colonel Leonel Godoy "worked" with Bámaca after his capture.

Alpírez had nothing to do with Bámaca, who was taken to military intelligence in the capital.

* There are witnesses who say that Bámaca killed himself.

* Bámaca was visited by high level army officers after his capture.

* Bámaca was executed after being captured and his body was thrown down a volcano. Another source says his body was burned in a sugar cane plantation.

The army killed an ex guerrilla and buried him instead of Bámaca to throw off investigators.

* Colonels Otto Pérez Molina and Hector Mario Barrios Celada (both now generals) took Bámaca by helicopter to an undisclosed location.

* Bámaca is buried in a clandestine cemetery next to the Cabañas military outpost in San Marcos.

What's the Point?

Various inevitable questions were not discussed in the report: what value is there to so many contradictory reports and why was there such a proliferation of versions? Is this a disinformation campaign of US informants in Guatemala or a campaign by the US intelligence service to disinform its supervisors? How valuable is this type of intelligence in the "fight against communism"? Does this type of work justify links with "reprehensible and unscrupulous" groups? If the CIA mandate in Guatemala is also to contribute to improving human rights and the rule of law, when will intelligence forces be used to reach these objectives?

For investigators from the Intelligence Supervision Commission, there is no need to redesign the CIA mandate in Guatemala or to restructure the supervision systems. In the cases in which the CIA did not fulfill its obligations to inform Congress or the State Department, there is not enough evidence to justify penal actions. The CIA already has decided on "actions to reform" the situation.

According to the Guatemalan government, the report offers little useful information to identify or sanction human rights violators within Guatemala's security forces. In reality, the investigation's mandate was only to respond to US concerns.

The impact of this report on institutionalized impunity or other and necessary investigations into the hundreds of thousands of victims of human rights violations is nil. And the message from Guatemala's security forces is clear: business as usual...but a little bit more carefully.

State Modernization

The Arzú government began to carry out its strategy to "convert, modernize and strengthen" the state in June, with a bill that replaces the Executive and Public Administration Law passed 51 years ago.

The government hopes to approve a dozen laws linked to state modernization over the rest of the year. Its efforts are facilitated by the absolute majority of the governing National Advancement Party (PAN) in Congress.

In June, the executive branch got approval of a law that severely restricts state workers' right to strike. The motives for this labor legislation became clear after the announcement by Vice President Luis Flores Asturias that "modernization" will require the "relocation" of 15% of state workers and the demonopolization of various public sectors.

Flores Asturias is in charge of implementing the plan to convert the state, transforming it into a "subsidiary, deconcentrated and decentralized state. As advisers on the plan, the government sought support from the two economic studies centers that represent the main platforms of the "technocratic" right in Guatemala: the Social Studies and Research Association (ASIES), which proposes a social market economy and is the source of an important number of functionaries for the new government, and the National Economic Resources Center (CIEN), which represents the most radically neoliberal right.

The plan includes the incorporation of a managerial focus in government ministries, separating the functions of the director implementor from those of the administrator/manager.

The demonopolization of public services is also contemplated, including telecommunications and electricity generation and distribution.

A 25 Year Process

Never before in Guatemala have conditions so favorable to a state modernization project existed. "Political military violence will no longer be sustained nor will it bring down states," explains political analyst Tania Palencia. "Now the political system is being reformed through minimal reforms that had been annulled since 1954 by military top brass and underrated by the armed left. The vicious cycle fed ideological intransigence.

"The Guatemalan state," adds Palencia, "is the main beneficiary of this long cycle of peace negotiations. The legal and institutional framework to promote communication networks between the state and society is being constructed, without which no hegemonic force can remain in power. The army is no longer that power. We have come to the end of the period of the total rupture between the military, the political power groups" and the economic power groups.

For Palencia, the new dynamic favors "the articulation of a new hegemonic force of power, interested in rebuilding the capitalist base that sustains the Guatemalan economy."

The Basis for Moderation

After six months in power, the Arzú government is ready to implement its state modernization plan around the agenda Palencia describes. This process could take 25 years, says Flores Asturias. And the PAN hopes to reap the benefits.

The Arzú government bases its modernization project on the following principles and policies:

* Base the state's new role on subsidiaries, solidarity, the promotion of competition, citizen participation and administrative excellence.

* Reconstruct the state, moving from a benefactor government to a subsidiary one, delegating functions to social organizations closer to the population and focusing social spending on the most needy populations.

* Promote the decentralization of public services and administrative deconcentration, strengthening departmental levels of government, local power, municipal autonomy and community participation through its organizations. Decentralize decision making power, policy design and projects and the implementation and evaluation of government works.

* Decentralize the ministries and facilitate the paperwork for those living in the interior.

* Functionally deconcentrate the budget and human resources to measure them by results, efficiency and transparency.

* Rationalize the public employment structure, eliminating unnecessary posts.

* Revise the civil service law and other laws, regulating public employee strikes.

* Demonopolize state activities to assure that the state focuses on its legitimate functions and abandons the functions and activities that can better be implemented by other agencies, under the subsidiary principle.

* Strengthen institutions and programs dedicated to simple and effective tax collection.

A State that Doesn't Function

When the National Congress approved the law regulating state labor relations in May, classifying almost all public services as "essential" and eliminating the right to strike for the great majority of public employees, the union movement was incapable of calling a demonstration of more than 200 people. The lack of support for state workers by their co workers, private sector workers and the population demonstrated the union movement's great weakness in the face of government intentions.

That weakness and a generalized perception of a state occupied by corrupt, inefficient and arrogant workers destroyed popular support for state workers. The lack of telecommunications services, the poor conditions of highways and the lack of electrical services in 70% of the country weigh heavily at the moment of deciding between solidarity with public workers and frustrations with a state that does not function. An example: there are almost 500,000 pending requests for new telephones and when Guatemalan Telecommunications Enterprise workers talk of the evils of the imminent privatization of GUATEL, the public reaction is not to believe them.

Ambassador Rigoberta?

An IMF mission gave its approval to the government program in June. The Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are working with the government to prepare its socioeconomic projects and also in institutional strengthening.

The government calculates that it needs at least $.3 billion to implement the peace accords, a process that weaves through much of the government program. Right now the government has less than $300 million guaranteed. The IDB calculates that "a substantial increase in tax income, the initiation of a radical program of reforms to modernize the state and culminate the peace accords" could get the state up to $662 million in loans for 1996 98.

To facilitate international financing, government sources reported on July 8 that once the final peace accord is signed between the government and the URNG, President Arzú is considering naming Rigoberta Menchú Tum as a "peace ambassador." The closeness between Arzú and Menchú has been permanent news in recent months, although to date Menchú has refused any direct participation with the government.

Lethargic Economy

While the political conditions for a firm and lasting peace have consolidated, the economic situation becomes ever more precarious. During the first quarter of 1996, the economy showed signs of exhaustion, with a growth rate barely level with population growth.

Industrial production is notably decelerating, and the lack of incentives for basic grains production has brought about a reduction in production volumes of corn, beans and rice. The exodus of foreign investors to Mexico and the closing of numerous piecework factories during 1995 is beginning to affect urban employment and the country's hard currency income. And the opening of the economy in recent years has provoked a trade balance deficit of more than a billion dollars, an imbalance the IDB terms "unsupportable."

The agroexport sector continues to show strength, as a result of international demand for nontraditional as well as traditional products: sugar, bananas and cardamom.

Analysts attribute part of the economic lethargy to political instability caused by a peace process that has taken too long and by the dramatic increase in crime, with multiple kidnappings, attacks and assaults. The president of the Trade, Industry and Finance Associations Committee (CADIF), reported that 140 businesspeople were kidnapped in recent months. In addition, annual interest rates of over 20% make
credit inaccessible for the majority of productive investors.

What Adjustment?

For over a decade of civil governments, prices of basic products have been freed and import tariffs reduced, real salaries have been eaten by inflation and export production has received priority treatment in relation to production for local consumption.

Although the last three governments have increased their incentives for private production and have shown systematic negligence in acting against businesses that violate their employees' labor rights, new long term investments have been scarce. The tendency to invest in speculative real estate circuits, shopping mall construction or short term financial investments has increased.

According to structural adjustment critics, the core of the problem is clear: "The people are paying the price of the adjustment, but nothing has been adjusted."

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