Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 153 | Abril 1994



Who's in Charge Here?

The army and the guerrilla met in Mexico to continue the peace process. On the eve of the dialogue there were great tensions and important changes in the army. They are key for understanding what is happening and for knowing where the real power in Guatemala is – where it always was.

Emma G. Martínez

The shifts made in the military hierarchy in February affected the peace process and will have consequences for the country's future. They also make clear Guatemala's unchanging reality; real power continues to reside in the army. Every civilian President is just a weathervane that turns with the winds blown up by that military institution.

In addition, the military changes publicly revealed, for the first time in many years, the divisions that exist in the army. And, finally, they made very evident the opposition of powerful national sectors to the peace process.

Guatemala's history has milestones that mark the moments in which the divisions within the army became uncontrollable. In 1954, such a division opened the way to the fall of the Jacobo Arbenz government and put an end to Guatemala's democratic revolution. In 1960, another faction became part of the guerrilla movement.

Hawks and doves

The Guatemala army is a very difficult animal to classify, both because of the powerful institution's secrecy and because of the tradition of conspiracy that exists in the country, making speculation is a national pastime. Despite all of this, the institution can be observed and classified to some degree from various angles, including generation, graduation class or ideology.

For a long time, analysts have spoken of what are at least the two most obvious factions. One is termed "institutionalist" for its support of the Constitution and its rejection of the Serrano coup in May 1993. The other faction, the "hard line", still yearns to put tanks in the street.

The two are also distinguished by their positions on the peace process and by the tactics they give priority to in confronting the guerrillas. The institutionalists are also known as "developmentalists," or part of the National Stability line, a theory promoted by General Alejandro Gramajo, defense minister during the Vinicio Cerezo government. In those years this group maintained a certain hegemony within the army. They have studied the guerrilla strategy since the 1980s, and decided to respond to it by emphasizing the fight on the political terrain.

Just as it is for the guerrillas, negotiations are for them an extension of the political war. In this theater the battleground includes diplomatic circles and international forums, beginning with the United Nations.

Low-caliber arms in this "war" are the democratic discourses and respect for human rights. The official military spokesperson for this faction is a woman who dresses in civilian clothes and paints her fingernails, hoping in this way to cover up the image of an army that continues to be bellicose.

When Jorge Serrano took office in 1990, he surrounded himself by hard-line officers, forcing out the institutionalists. the harad-lines prefer military to political war and think that the only necessary negotiation is to discuss how and when the "terrorist criminals" will turn over their arms. They are not subtle in their management of the media (unlike the institutionalists) and do not care about public relations.

Over the years, the marriage of these two factions has been conflictive, but they have managed to survive without divorce. Some analysts talk about hawks vs. doves, but both birds clearly have feathers and both like to fly.

"I've never thought that there were hawks and doves within the army," commented presidential advisor and military affairs export Hector Rosada. "They are all trained to be hawks but some end up thinking like doves."

Walking with Two Crutches

According to another military analyst close to the institutionalists, the Serrano coup opened the door for this faction to take the offensive in the political war for the first time in years. "The human rights violations are army's Achilles heel in the political war," he commented. "These officers thought that the best way to change the country's image would be putting a Human Rights Prosecutor as President."
The current leader of the institutionalist group is Colonel Otto Pérez Molina, 42, who represents a generational change in the army. Molina enjoys credibility among the middle and lower ranks because of his experience in combat in the 1980s in Ixcán, Quiché, the country's most conflictive zone.

Pérez also distinguished himself as a leader within the army of a movement against Serrano during the 1993 coup. He and various middle-level officers were sanctioned for insubordination and detained. When De León took power, one of his first acts was to reward Pérez, naming him Presidential Chief of Staff.

The close relationship between the new President and Pérez had precedents. While De León was Human Rights Prosecutor, he requested G-2 collaboration to investigate various cases of human rights violations; his friendship with Pérez began at that time.

De León began his administration without a political party, a program, a staff or an organized social base. Knowing who really runs Guatemala, it was easy for him to make a close alliance with this sector of the army from the beginning. Today, the alliance with Pérez and Co. is the President's primary support. The change in his positions on the civil patrols and the peace process should therefore be no surprise. As they say in Guatemala today, the President is walking with two crutches. One is the army's institutionalist sector and the other is the US Embassy.

The Tip of the Iceberg

The institutionalist faction has managed to consolidate its position considerably during De León's administration. The firs sign was the change in the defense minister last June; General Jorge Roberto Perussina, of the hard line, was replaced by General Mario Enríquez, of the institutional line. In the last few months there have been other changes at the middle levels that guarantee certain control in the military zones. One analyst says that the second in command of all these zones is now an officer from the same graduation class as Pérez Molina. This control of the war zones is strategic to preventing an eventual coup.

In February 1994, the institutionalist faction advanced even more; it achieved considerable changes within the High Command, which guarantee it hegemony for the moment. General José Quilo Ayuso, The Defense and second in the Ministry of Defense, was removed even though he still had five more years of service. This was the key change, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. A number of other significant changes also took place, from the High Command on down, including the leadership of at least six military bases in important war zones.

Gen. Quilo's removal on February 18 was a surprise, and was surrounded by rumors of attacks against the President and a coup headed by Quilo. In a country where rumors of coups are everyday occurrences, it is difficult to know exactly what lays behind the sudden change in the military hierarchy. What is on the surface, however, is clear. With Quilo's exit, the institutionalists have succeeded in neutralizing the hard line in the High Command; almost all hard-line generals are now retired.

Angry and Upset

Quilo ws not as quiet as had been hoped. In his official discharge ceremony from the army on February 25, the General, with tears in his eyes, directly accused President De León of responsibility for his departure. Before a surprised De León and attending diplomats, Quilo claimed that the President had tried to use the civil patrols for political ends during the January popular consultation, telling the army to order them to vote YES.

"They replaced me because I opposed the President manipulating the civil patrols in the consultation," he said. "I do not regret having interfered in and neutralized the instructions sent down from the President that we participate in the mobilization of citizens, especially the civil patrols, during the Popular Consultation. In the defense minister's absence, I issued a counter-order on February 15 to all commanders and chiefs, indicating that they should abstain from involving themselves in the electoral event for legal reasons.

Angry now, Quilo ended his speech with a call to "all those elements both low and high," to be alert against a "malevolent conspiracy" to destroy the army through the peace process. According to Quilo, the URNG planned to use the peace process to win at the negotiation table what they could never win on the battlefield.

De León immediately denied Quilo's declarations, attributing them to his "emotional state," brought on by having abandoned his military career early. Two days later, the army issued a declaration of support for the President that rejected Quilo's version. The declaration caused political agitation, but the President's tactic of ignoring the claims worked and the flood waters receded.

In a later interview whit Crónica magazine, Quilo said that his leaving "will generate reactions," implicitly warning the President and the institutionalists that the February tactic could have unforeseeable consequences.

The Sewer of Truth

Despite their differences, the Quilo-Hawks and the Pérez-Doves are united on one point: rejection of the Commission of Truth. This was the issue that put an end to the honeymoon between the President and the institutionalists. Both army factions were annoyed with the results of January's preliminary meetings between the URNG leaders and the Guatemalan government in Mexico.

In this meeting, the government negotiating team-with three military members-agreed to renew the February 1993 talks with a discussion of the general accord on human rights. It was also ragreed that there would be international verification of any future accord.

Hector Rosada, who headed the government team, had publicly announced in January that the possibility of creating a Commission of Truth would be one of the points on the human rights discussion agenda. The army high command argued that such a commission-similar to one that grew out of the Salvadoran peace talks-would be used to weaken the armed forces as an institution. In the counterinsurgency campaign and "scorched earth" policy of the 1980s, the army caused the disappearance of 440 communities, more than 100,000 deaths and disappearances and half a million refugees and displaced.

If February of this year, Rosada himself admitted that the state was responsible for 80-85% of all human rights violations since 1954. "What happened in this country is a sewer, a filthy disgrace, but we can't open it up again. If we blamed anyone, we'd have to put the whole armed forces in jail. And what would we get from that?" he concluded, "a coup d'etat.".

What's to Be expected?

Simply discussing the possibility of creating a truth commission caused unhappiness in all sectors of the army, especially among the youngest officers of middle rank who supported De León. If formed, the commission would investigate crimes committed tin the last ten years, a period when these officers were on the battlefield following orders to "take the water away from the fish." Most of the generals who gave these orders are now retired.

"The President committed an error in the negotiations by accepting the truth commission. This commission will afect the active military, those who were just following orders," explained a military analyst. "That's why the President was given an ultimatum."
The agreements reached in Mexico quickly had repercussions within Guatemala in the form of strong army pressure on the President, pressure that quickly turned into actions. At the beginning of February, Rosada announced that the talks with the guerrillas would be postponed until March.

The Guatemalan press later announced that two of the three military members of the government negotiating team would be replaced. According to the same military analyst, many officers no longer trusted the generals who had attended the January meeting with the guerrillas and agreed to discuss a commission of truth.

At first, Rosada denied that the military members of the negotiating team would be changed, but he later admitted that he had met with the President for various hours to insist that they not be replaced. The change was announced at the end of February. The two generals named had participated in other talks in the past. They aren't hard line, but at the time of their earlier participation, the peace process went at a snail's pace.

With all these changes and with the army pressures to eliminate any discussion about a truth commission, more advances in the URNG-government talks should not be expected.

Another Bad Sign

The De León alliance with the institutionalists appears to have had another cost; the withdrawal of Arnoldo Ortiz Moscoso, a civilian known for his honesty, from his post as head of the Ministry of Government. It was no coincidence that Ortiz' resignation was announced the same day General Quilo was removed from his post. It appears to have been the result of a negotiation between hawks and doves.

Naming a civilian as minister of government had been De León's only achievement in terms of demilitarization. Human rights activists had recognized the positive changes in the police force that resulted from Ortiz' influence. He also stood out from previous ministers by his frank statements about human rights violations, which appears to have angered both doves and hawks.

"The army no longer wanted Ortiz. He didn't resign, they kicked him out," commented a military adviser. "He was a weak human rights lawyer." Carlos Aldana, director of the Archbishop's Human Rights office, offered another opinion. "We lament the change of Minister Ortiz. He carried out his work in a legal, civil and democratic manner, and as minister he tried to give his best in the struggle to improve the judicial system."

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>


Insurrection in Chiapas... Revolution in Mexico?

Organic Agriculture: A labor of Love

Time for the Horse to Pull the Cart

El Salvador
The left's response to two Historic Challenges

Who's in Charge Here?

Costa Rica
Interview with Figueres: We Want 'Costa Rican Development

Atlantic Coast: Another Disaster?

Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development