Who Sets the Tempo in the Dance of Peace?
The peace process has speeded up, and civil society is participating in it. What can be expected from negotiations advocated by the international community? Will it be possible to get to the root of the conflict? What spaces will the U.N. have? The accelerated pace is a two-edged sword.
Trish O' Kane
The international community has decided that 1994 is the year in which the "Central American Chapter'" closes with a peace accord in Guatemala. The decision has to do with economic interests, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement. The North's interest in forming a continental bloc puts Guatemala in a strategic position due its border with Mexico.
"Since January, the rhythm of the peace process has become very rapid, quite different from that seen previously, and the international community is setting the tempo," says Argentina Cuevas, of the Conference of Religious Workers in Guatemala (CONFREGUA). She has been one of the most active promoters of grassroots participation in the negotiations.
According to Cuevas, speeding up the negotiations through international pressure has both advantages and disadvantages for civil society. The advantages are expressed in the general accord on human rights signed March 29, in which the government and the armed forces accepted the presence of a United Nations verification mission and also agreed to take up the thorny issue of a Truth Commission.
Civil Sector Assembly A Major NoveltyDiplomatic sources confirm that the UN verification mission will arrive in the country in August, and will be larger than first contemplated: some 200 foreigners, schooled in human rights issues. It will set up its offices in areas of the countryside that have the most recorded charges of human rights violations. If the peace process continues moving forward, the mission could grow to as many as 1,000 people, and would take up the technical aspects of demilitarization and the reinsertion of former guerrilla combatants into civilian life.
Another fruit of the March accords was the creation of the Assembly of Civil Sectors. The ASC is a space for participation by representatives of a wide range of organizations, something unheard of in the country. It was formally inaugurated on May 17 and will support the negotiation process by presenting proposals so both the URNG and the government take into account the opinion of civil society. For the first time in over 30 years, civil sectors in Guatemala will do joint studies and analyses, and draft suggestions to bring both sides to the conflict closer to a common solution.
According to Argentina Cuevas, who participates in the ASC, "It is a wager to see what space civil society can win. It is a weak wager, because the ASC is not directly linked to the negotiating process, yet neither side can morally afford to ignore the ASC. The international community is interested in involving civil society in the process and the ASC has great moral force."
The ASC is presided over by Bishop Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, who served as a conciliator in the negotiations for many years. Eleven different sectors are represented in the ASC: political parties, business and religious sectors, unions, grassroots and Mayan organizations, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, research centers, centers promoting human rights, and women. Although the latter sector was included only at the last minute, it is still another novelty in this country, where the women's movement is still incipient.
Baptism by Fire: Reaching ConsensusFive full delegates, with alternates, represent each of these sectors in the different working commissions, for a total of 67 persons. The organization's baptism by fire came in May when, after a two day discussion, it reached consensus on its first document, dealing with the resettlement of uprooted populations.
The document discussed access to land, demilitarization of the return zones, recognition of the uprooted as a civilian population and the creation of a Truth Commission. To guarantee that this commission can apply justice, the document asks the government to take on the commitment that, once the commission's responsibilities are hammered out, the various state agencies will not concede amnesties, pardons or any other deals that would imply offering impunity to human rights violators.
At the beginning of June, the Assembly began preparing the discussion for its second topic: the identity and rights of the country's indigenous peoples. The four Mayan groupings formed a special coordinating body to participate in the Assembly. In Guatemala, the Mayan movement has a history of deep divisions, so it is a landmark event that the groups have been able to work together and agree on a single document, which will be presented to the Assembly for discussion.
Big Business on the SidelinesThe private sector has been conspicuously absent from this process. The leaders of CACIF, Guatemala's big business umbrella organization, did not attend the first meetings in May, alleging that the Assembly does not represent civil society. They decided instead to try opening their own communication channel with guerrilla comandantes through a business delegation that was to travel to Mexico on May 19.
The "Cafices" committed a surprisingly incoherent act: at the same time as they were hoping to resolve some problems over drinks with in Mexico the comandantes, in Guatemala they sent an open letter to the Attorney General asking him to open a legal process against the URNG's guerrilla leaders. If the comandantes had lent themselves to this game, they would have put the whole Assembly of Civil Sectors at risk. But, as could be expected, the URNG rejected a meeting with CACIF.
At the end of May, the business leaders announced that they would definitely not participate in the ASC. On May 26, in an interview with the news daily Siglo Veintiuno, CACIF leader Luis Reyes Mayén, president of the Chamber of Agriculture, revealed the real nitty gritty of that decision. "It is an error to make an equation between land and peace. Mechanisms must be effectively sought to grant access to land to some Guatemalans, but that land should not be given in indiscriminate amounts. We are concerned that, as part of the repatriation program, there is such insistence on locating the returnees in certain areas, in those where they could be given land."
Mayén explained that, in order to give land to all these people, it would be necessary to expand the agricultural frontier in detriment to the forest, since these lands will only produce for a year or two. "Other opportunities must be sought for the development of Guatemalans instead of demagogically insisting that land is the necessary resource for Guatemalans to get out of poverty," he concluded.
With 70% of the land in the hands of 2% of the population, Guatemala has the most unjust land distribution in all of Latin America. It should not be surprising, then, that representatives of the 2% are not particularly interested in sitting down at the same table with those representing the 70%.
Argentina Cuevas feels that "the Assembly is going to face many difficulties, because the army, the government and the country's economic powers are not in agreement with it. The Assembly is the fruit of the desires of some sectors of society, the URNG and the Catholic Church and is an important space to bring together indigenous people and women, the sectors of the future."
The disgust felt by the groups that have long monopolized power toward this novel unifying effort was expressed with violence, as is customary in Guatemala. On May 31, a bomb exploded in the doorway of the home of Fernando Quezada Toruño, brother of ASC president Bishop Quezada. The army blamed the guerrilla forces, but those involved in the ASC believe that the anonymous message was but one more of many they have received over the years.
A Tough Chess MatchThe new rhythm of the process implies risks. "Accelerating means sacrificing content," warns Argentina Cuevas. "For example, how can the land issue be discussed and resolved in a month? It could also end up that such pressure on both sides could bring the process to a total halt. Haste is a double edged sword."
This was made quite clear with the stagnation that hit the process in May, when the issue of displaced people came up. Despite international pressure, the two sides came out of the May 21 24 meetings in Mexico with no accords at all.
The verbal conflict intensified days later, with each side blaming the other for the failure. The government claimed the process was held up because the URNG opposed a proposal for a partial cease fire in the Ixcán, the return zone, and the guerrilla forces accused the army of having launched a new military offensive precisely in that zone.
The issue of a partial cease fire in the Ixcán was not contemplated in the original discussion about the displaced populations. Furthermore, the timetable of topics to be negotiated, agreed to by the two parties in January, does not schedule any discussion of a cease fire until September.
Minister of Defense General Enríquez had already proposed a cease fire in that area of conflict several months ago. In May, the army promoted the proposal more strongly and took it to the negotiating table.
From a humanitarian point of view, it is an excellent idea, and was received well both nationally and internationally. But, as analysts explain, a peace process is not a humanitarian discussion. It is a chess match between two opponents, war at the political level, in which any "innocent" proposal from either side must be analyzed with mistrust.
The guerrilla forces have declared time and again that they will not lay down their arms until the substance of the process is discussed how to resolve the socioeconomic origins of the armed conflict. The army and the government want to force a cease fire, thus skipping over three key agenda sessions identity and indigenous rights (June); socioeconomic aspects and the agrarian situation (July); and strengthening civil power and defining the army's functions in a democratic society (August).
"If the URNG accepts a cease fire now, they've given up," explained one foreign analyst. "This proposal is an attempt to weaken the URNG. The Ixcán is the only place where the guerrilla organization has a permanent presence. A partial cease fire there would also be a definitive blow to the combatants." For all these reasons, it should have been no surprise that the URNG so categorically rejected the proposal, and that emotions became so heated between the two negotiating teams.
That's LifeAt the same time the army was proposing a partial cease fire in the Ixcán, it increased its military presence in that strategic zone. A quarter of its forces are now stationed there, according to the defense minister's statements to the local press. The Communities of Population in Resistance (CPR) have been denouncing the increasing numbers of troops in the zone which the army keeps closed since March.
In an interview with Siglo Veintiuno on May 12, General Enríquez commented, "We moved the Fourth Detachment from where it was because the CPRs moved very nearby, and put it near the Mexican border. Now they say we have them surrounded because we're in Mayaland, in Mónaco and Xalbal. But that's life..."
There are other signs of growing militarization in the country as well. Charges arriving from different parts of the country indicate massive forced military recruitment the last weekend of May. In the eastern regions, soldiers accompanied by police were reported to have "brutally and with excessive force" hauled some 200 young men out of buses and vehicles.
Human Rights Solicitor Jorge García Laguardia declared that the series of recruitments in at least four areas of the country is of "great concern." These actions violate the overall human rights accord signed on March 29, which stipulates that military recruitment cannot be forced. General Enríquez admitted that there had been "some problems" with recruitment at the end of May; in the city of Quezaltenango alone, 150 minors had been recruited. That's life?
The Carpio CaseAlmost a year after the assassination of politician Jorge Carpio, first cousin of Guatemala's President Ramiro de León Carpio, the case has taken a sudden turn towards justice. In May, authorities freed the indigenous men initially accused of killing Carpio, saying that they were innocent. From the very beginning, both the Carpio family and the families of the accused said the authorities were looking for scapegoats, hoping to mount a propaganda show, all to cover up the truly guilty parties.
On May 31, the police captured three new suspects: the head of the civil patrol in San Pedro Joopilas, Quiché; the former departmental governor of El Quiché; and the current mayor of San Pedro Joopilas. Ballistics evidence led to the arrest of the three men, which caused a political uproar in Guatemala.
The civil patrols in San Pedro Joopilas are notorious throughout Guatemala. They have the town under siege and the Archbishop's Human Rights Office has on file more than 30 charges against them for human rights violations ranging from illegal detentions and harassment of the population to torture and assassinations.
Marta Arrivillaga, Jorge Carpio's widow, declared to the local press that the civil patrols and military intelligence were directly responsible for her husband's murder. According to her, the Archbishop's Human Rights Office accused the civil patrols of the crime months ago, but the government played down the accusation.
The recently detained men argue that they are just new scapegoats and that their imprisonment is part of a political conspiracy the three belong to the Christian Democratic Party, El Quiché's major political force. Diplomatic sources, however, claim that, this time, the investigation is on the right track.
These latest advances are due to independent investigations by both the Archbishop's office and the Carpio family. After finding many common points among the different investigations, they began to pressure the government to act.
According to one diplomatic source, "It would seem at last that they are close to finding out who actually pulled the trigger. What remains to be done is to point out the intellectual authors of what happened the military forces."