Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 170 | Septiembre 1995



Peace Process Stalled Till After Elections

Conflicting historical interests, a weak government, and a powerful and contradiction filled army make it clear that a definitive peace will not be signed before the elections. The future of the peace process will depend on those elections.

Gonzalo Guerrero

The peace negotiations bogged down in July, due to contradictory interests at play in the agenda point currently under discussion, disagreements within the army and the government's negotiating weakness given the approaching elections President Ramiro de León Carpio will hand over the presidential sash to his successor on January 14, 1996.

Each of these three factors points in the same direction: it will be extremely hard to hammer out a "firm and lasting" peace accord during what remains of this administration. The future of the peace process will thus depend heavily on the winning party's commitments to Guatemala's economic, political and military powers.

The current agenda point of the peace negotiations is Socioeconomic Issues and the Land Situation. The government and the URNG are thus debating such issues as the social function of land, taxes on idle land, and "measures to favor peasant access to land." All of these themes are crucial to Guatemala's powerful ruling class.

Six years ago, one minister in the Vinicio Cerezo government's economic Cabinet gave an economics class to a select group of businesspeople. He explained that the country's Gross Domestic Product is almost always expressed in terms of production by sector, but that there is another, less commonly used, way to express this indicator: according to income. "In Guatemala," he said, "only 25% of the GDP goes to workers in the form of wages; the other 75% is divided among profits, income and interests." In any developed country, 75% of the GDP goes to salaried workers.

Just recently, during a forum on the socioeconomic situation and land in Guatemala, Agricultural Chamber of Commerce president Humberto Preti commented, "The solutions to Guatemala's socioeconomic problems are not found in agriculture and anyone who says otherwise is lying." In the same speech, Preti discarded the viability of agricultural enterprises in peasant hands, noting that the farms given to peasants by the Cerezo government have been disasters. "The peasants still live in dire poverty on these farms," concluded Preti. The implication was that this was the fault of the peasants.

The following three stories the San Martín cooperative, the Montellano plantation and the Group of 14 illustrate multiple possibilities and dangers for production alternatives. These options and experiments are very relevant and should be carefully studied.

San Martín Jilotepeque

By 1980, the peasants from communities around San Martín Jilotepeque in the Chimaltenango department had already been organized in agricultural cooperatives for some years. Guatemalan governments had promoted cooperativism in the 1970s, in part to weaken the revolutionary movement by opening a "third way" for peasants. The cooperatives in San Martín received strong support from nongovernmental organizations like Oxfam, World Neighbors and others.

Crop rotation, production technification, soil conservation and improved use of inputs gave impressive results. From lands that had previously yielded only subsistence crops, the harvests were plentiful enough to trade the excess. Water sources that had dried up because of deforestation and erosion began to flow again due to conservation and reforestation projects.

It was no surprise that neighbors from nearby communities wanted to find out what was happening there. The cooperative members, convinced of the benefits of working collectively, organized trips for peasants to learn more about the new methods and be inspired by them.

When coffee harvest time came and the cattle trucks that annually transported the peasants to the large coffee plantations arrived in San Martín, very few peasants wanted to go. The cooperative members explained to the labor contractors that they now had enough income and work and could stay with their families year round instead of having to do wage labor on the plantations.

It did not take long for a reaction. In the same year, 1980, several leaders of San Martín's three largest cooperatives were murdered by death squads and two of the three cooperatives had to dissolve. Today, instead of showing off the fruits of their labor, San Martín's peasants show trusted visitors the clandestine slaughtering spots and cemeteries around the municipality where cooperative members were shot and killed.

Survivors of that period say it is still not clear whether the repression was to punish the cooperative members for affecting the labor availability for the plantations, or because they functioned as successful production models, or simply because at that time any form of social organization was seen as a latent threat that could radicalize and join a growing revolutionary movement.

What survivors do tell is that the repression itself motivated San Martín's population to join guerrilla organizations. "The four revolutionary organizations were present in the municipality, but at that time they were clandestine and there wasn't much interest in participating," says a San Martín peasant. "But after the repression we joined as a way to defend ourselves from attacks."
San Martín's history is one of many that show that behind the Cold War ideological arguments there was and still is a reality in the Guatemalan countryside that many do not want to change. Traditional agroexport producers do not want to let go of the reins of a production system that requires abundant, cheap and temporary labor. And this reality is closely linked to the lack of access to productive lands and inadequate technical, financing and organizational assistance for peasants.


The Montellano coffee plantation is situated on uneven terrain in the Yepocapa municipality of Chimaltenango. In 1987 the Cerezo government gave it to almost 200 peasant families, after pressure from a peasant movement led by priest Andrés Girón. "Father Girón wanted us to live like the primitive Christian communities, with everything collectively managed, but we weren't prepared for that," recalls Francisco Vicente Xiloj, of the farm administration committee. Lack of community cohesion indigenous peasants from four different regions representing four ethnic groups with various religious beliefs shared the land led to the emergence of problems reflected in low productivity and an unwillingness of the community members to work collectively.

In 1990 the peasants decided to divide the plantation into 187 plots, with just under three acres for each family. Today, farm administration is still in community hands, as are inputs purchases, sale of the harvest and social and productive projects. But each family is responsible for planting, tending and harvesting its own coffee.

In the last harvest, Vicente Xiloj alone harvested 350 hundredweight of raw coffee beans, worth 21,875 quetzales at the international market price equivalent for dried beans. Subtracting spending on fertilizers, pesticides, lime and other inputs, he earned in one month four times what a day worker earns on a coffee plantation. If Xiloj had worked for a minimum agricultural wage he would have earned 25% of the net value of production. On his own farm, he earned 75%.

Production yields in Montellano are among the highest of technified farms, according to studies by the National Coffee Association (ANACAFE). Xiloj's explanation is that "I don't let anyone but my family pick my coffee. If the picker isn't careful, he'll break the branches and next year's production will be lower. When I was a day worker, I saw lots of waste; workers put half a bag of fertilizer on the bushes and buried the other half to work less."
Montellano is, in part, fruit of the work of a priest who knew how to win a farm but not how to organize either production or the community. And it is also partly fruit of the initiative of peasants who knew how to learn from their experiences and create a hybrid organization combining individual production units with community administration of other plantation and community tasks.

The Group of 14

Peasant access to productive land is a necessary but insufficient step to guarantee successful agricultural production. Many cases in recent history show that the lack of technical assistance and credits and a failure to take advantage of economies of scale in community or cooperative organization have caused failures in peasant production. On the other hand, productive projects with NGO collaboration often fail due to the lack of a business focus demanding solvency, resulting in structural peasant dependence on NGO support.

Multiple structural ploys and the current tendency to manage alternative projects based on ideologies and recipes unproven in practice have caused failures that support the traditional agro-exporters' argument that only they can produce efficiently.
Five years ago, 14 organizations of small coffee producers cooperatives and peasant businesses, leagues and associations sought a way to avoid these ploys and dependencies, especially in the sale of coffee.

According to an ANACAFE study, small producers lose up to two thirds of their harvest's potential value due to high middle man costs in coffee processing and sales. Naturally, workers are in even worse conditions; they earn the equivalent of $2.50 per day or per 100 lbs. of coffee picked. With that income, they would have to pick almost 300 lbs. of coffee just to buy one pound of quality coffee in a New York store.

In December 1993, small coffee producers created the Group of 14, Inc. and in 1994 they sold 630,000 hundredweight of raw coffee. The Group of 14 sells directly to importers from Holland, who finance the producers based on their production. The Group now has 21 organizations, with 4,000 affiliated families who receive technical assistance and training from the Group. They are currently trying to get their own export license and are negotiating the construction of a coffee processing center for their members. "We want to compete with quality and service," says Alonso Silvestre, Group manager. "Things have changed a little. There is resentment on the part of the big business sector, but not aggression."

A "Signed" Assassination

Two months ago, an army specialist was shot to death in a bar in Guatemala City's Zone 13. The assassination was not reported in the media and was seen as a routine occurrence in a country where an average of 15 people a day die violently.

But the crime did capture the interest of some army officials. According to a source close to military "institutionalists," the victim, as well as being a driver for the army intelligence section, had worked as a sort of "consciousness raiser" within army ranks. He had received courses in Europe about the role of armies in democratic societies, and, promoted by army modernizing sectors, had given talks to the troops about "institutionalist" concepts.

According to the same source, the murder of this man can be seen as a sign to the institutionalists from the hard line military sector. If so, the crime would indicate that international pressure around the Bámaca case, the approaching discussion of the military issue in the peace negotiations and the lack of a presidential candidate that offers security to military members directly involved in the dirty war have contributed to creating even greater resistance to the peace process within the army.

Defense Minister General Mario René Enríquez's public comment in mid July that it would be difficult to sign a peace accord in 1995 could be a reaction to this internal situation. Héctor Rosada, president of the Government Peace Commission, criticized the Defense Minister for speaking without authorization on a subject outside of his sphere. In addition to showing the lack of unity between civil and military sectors involved in the negotiations, Enríquez's comments can also be interpreted as a rejection of the pretension to resolve the internal army conflict with a rapid signing of the peace accord.

Truth or Justice

Another factor that may have affected recalcitrant army sectors was the decision of the Citizens' Registry of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to reject General Efraín Ríos Montt's registration as a presidential candidate. Military officers concerned about being tried for their serious violations of human rights consider Ríos Montt, responsible for massive massacres during his government, as their best candidate. Only he could guarantee total amnesty to cover the multiple crimes of the past.

CIA revelations affirming denunciations of the military role in the capture and interrogation of disappeared guerrilla Efraín Bámaca and in the assassination of US citizen Michael Devine are another thorn in the army's side. The investigations, publicity and international pressure regarding the Bámaca case have undermined the weak consensus created within the army after an agreement was signed a year ago to form an "historical clarification" commission.

The "Truth Commission" that should be formed after the final peace accord is signed will not seek individual responsibility nor will it have judicial ends. As expressed by Héctor Rosada, "We can have truth or justice, but not both." Nonetheless, investigations in the Bámaca and Devine cases and the numerous exhumations of clandestine cemeteries in recent months have increased the indignation of human rights groups and relatives of victims, who demand both truth and justice. It remains to be seen if Rosada's pronouncement will hold true.

The Front is Dispersed

On July 29, one month after it was formed, the New Guatemala Democratic Front (FDNG) announced its candidates for President and Vice President of the Republic: economist Jorge González del Valle and indigenous activist Juan León Alvarado, respectively.

González del Valle was president of the Bank of Guatemala during the first eight months of the Ríos Montt regime (March December 1982) and was removed from that post amid severe criticisms by the agroex port sector of his exchange rate control policy. González has lived much of his life in Mexico and was previously an executive with the International Monetary Fund.

Juan León Alvarado, from the department of Quiché, was a member of the group of peasants who organized the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) in 1978. Between 1986 and 1993 he worked with human rights groups and between 1992 and 1994 was director of the Mayan Mayjawil Q'ij organization. He was also a founder of the Mayan Defense Group and the Mayan Consensus and Unity Instance.

The Front was born as an initiative of various groups who sought a pluralist and inclusive expression, and had the enthusiastic participation of both leftist intellectuals who in the past had disagreed with the insurgent groups and progressive leaders from political parties, unions and human rights groups. But after just one month of existence, the Front appears to be only an expression of the popular and union movement, since the other founding groups and political personalities have already pulled out. Their departure coincided with the FDNG's nomination of presidential candidates.

Some political analysts and participants in the Front attribute this departure to disagreements over candidate selection and to a conflict that arose over including the Revolutionary Front Party, criticized for its links with military governments and corrupt politicians.

Others consider that it was the result of a struggle for hegemony that displaced pluralistic tendencies. Inforpress Centroamericana's analysis is that "in reality, the inclusion of popular, union and Mayan sectors forced the departure of civic groups that had included democratic and progressive sectors. The Front's profile has thus shifted from being a union of various interests to being a grassroots representation."
Many grassroots movement groups in the Front have been indicated by the army as "political arms" of the insurgence. With the exit of the majority of civic groups and political parties, various analysts believe that the FDNG will appear more than ever as an authentic and dangerous Trojan Horse in the eyes of Guatemala's extreme right.

Arzú Moves to the Head

The possibility that the National Advancement Party (PAN) will win the November elections improved greatly with the exclusion of Ríos Montt as a presidential candidate. It is now nearly a sure thing since legislative representative Arturo Soto, second choice to Ríos Montt, has quit his party.

PAN is the party of the powerful CACIF business sector, and no other candidate approaches the popularity of its candidate Alvaro Arzú. In a survey published on July 20, 46% of the capital's residents polled expressed support for him, largely because his municipal works there have won much popular support. Ríos Montt came in second with 14%, and no other candidate got more than 2%. Although 28% offered no opinion or chose not to respond, that percentage is no threat to Arzú's first place position.

Most Serious Obstacle to Human Rights

In the first week of July, the United Nations Mission for Guatemala (MINUGUA) released its second human rights report since its arrival in October 1994. Based on an investigation of 570 cases reported between February 21 and May 21, the report criticizes the lack of an overall government policy to combat the impunity that, it states, "is still the most serious obstacle to human rights in Guatemala."
MINUGUA cites National Police statistics to describe the atmosphere of insecurity: 2,053 violent deaths and 4,078 injuries were registered in the first 18 weeks of 1995 an average of 45 victims per day, of which 15 were deaths.

Among the 225 cases investigated in which the right to life was violated, the report mentions an important percentage of cases in which cadavers were found. "The victims' background and the places they were abandoned have elements and patterns characteristic of organized 'social cleansing' groups," says the report. MINUGUA documents direct participation by state agents in several of these cases.

The report also refers to numerous cases of threats against human rights activists and citizens who refuse to participate in the Civil Self Defense Patrols (PACs). It questions the failure of legal authorities to investigate these cases and police reluctance to issue arrest orders against criminals with links to the armed institution.

In response to demands from landlords and military sectors, MINUGUA included in this report a criticism of the URNG practice of charging "war taxes" to farm owners. MINUGUA members have complained that some army officials and PAC leaders say the UN mission favors the guerrillas.
To these criticisms must be added complaints by agroexporters that MINUGUA does not consider the violations of their human rights by peasants who occupy their farms to protest bad treatment or pressure for the expropriation of disputed lands. The MINUGUA report argues that the right to private property is not among the human rights given priority in the URNG government agreement that established the UN's functions in Guatemala.

Some national observers and MINUGUA members themselves have expressed fears that landlords and certain sectors of the army will increase their attacks on the mission. Others believe that the MINUGUA accusations have not had sufficient effects in the structures that defend justice in Guatemala. They offer as proof that after the first report, violent actions actually doubled rather than diminishing.


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