Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 177 | Abril 1996



Already Post-War, But Still no Peace

New realities speed up the peace clock. Meanwhile, the wall of impunity remains strong, the wall of secrecy begins to crumble, and organized crime increases its “productivity” and “is privatized”.

Gonzalo Guerrero

After a two month recess, the peace negotiations between the government and the URNG resumed in February. President Alvaro Arzú named former guerrilla and Arzú's closest adviser during his electoral campaign to head the new governmental Peace Commission (COPAZ).

Arzú met with four members of the URNG General Command on February 25. For the first time in the history of Guatemala's prolonged armed conflict, a President met directly with leaders of the insurgency. Arzú also took advantage of his visit to Mexico to talk with Guatemalan refugees residing in that country.

Another of the President's bold decisions was to include only one army officer in the Peace Commission during the first round of talks, thus reducing the military's role when this round takes up the socioeconomic issue, not related to the future of the armed institution.

Many were also surprised when Arzú decided to go meet with the President of Mexico and the URNG Command instead of attending the meeting called by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in El Salvador, during his visit to Central America.

Pending Themes

On February 12, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein revealed that Arzú and his advisers had met secretly with the General Command on five occasions in the last three months: three times in El Salvador, once in Mexico, and the most recent one in Rome, where it was agreed "to continue the dialogue under the already established terms."

According to the agenda established in January 1994 and revised in January 1995, the pending themes for discussion are: socioeconomic aspects and agrarian situation; the army's role in a democratic society; constitutional reforms necessary for implementing the substantial accords; and, finally, mechanisms of demobilization and reinsertion of combatants into society. When Arzú took office on January 14, he announced that he hoped to sign a final agreement within six to eight months.

Three Biographies

The new Peace Commission is made up of three civilians who represent a broad ideological spectrum:

Gustavo Porras. He studied with Arzú in the Guatemala Lyceum and then studied sociology in Paris. He became close to the revolutionary movement in the 1960s and joined the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) in 1980, working with it in the formation of militants and as an urban struggle strategist. When the army succeeded in disarticulating the urban guerrilla units between 1980 and 1981, Porras pulled back from the revolutionary movement and began to question the EGP's positions, participating with dissident left groups in Mexico. On his return to Guatemala at the beginning of the 1990s, he worked as head of the research team on the newspaper Siglo XXI and as an investigator in the Association of Economic and Social Research (ASIES). His support to Arzú's campaign was to seek ties between PAN and progressive sectors in the country.

Richard Aitkenhead. He was Minister of Finances during the Serrano Elías government and one of the officials less stained by Serrano's "self coup" in May 1993. Aitkenhead has worked as a consultant to the Interamerican Development Bank for the past two years. He has also been director of the magazine Crónica and of the Sugar Growers' Foundation (FUNDAZUCAR).

Raquel Zelaya. Board member of ASIES and expert on social market economy. She was named Minister of Finances during the first month of the Serrano government, but resigned after receiving death threats due to her investigations about "phantom" posts in the state. Aitkenhead replaced her.

The new COPAZ met with the URNG on February 22 23 and agreed to provide continuity to the established agenda. At the end of March, debate will start on the issue of Socioeconomic Aspects and Agrarian Situation. Porras insisted that the establishment of fixed deadlines for reaching accords is not viable and announced that it had been agreed with the URNG that neither side would abandon any negotiation round without having made some concrete advance.

The lack of trustworthy communication channels between the previous COPAZ and sectors of power affected by the content of the negotiations created mounting distrust in the power groups and, at the end, led them to an open effort to sabotage the peace process, even with legal actions. Now, with a COPAZ closer to the presidency and to the modernizing economic sectors, those who oppose the negotiations will probably aim their torpedoes at the government as a whole and its allies instead of specifically attacking COPAZ or its members.

Land: The Hot Issue

The most heated issues in the current stage of negotiations are those related to land tenure, the tax burden and the size and nature of the state. Although the government has not declared its strategic positions on these issues, two studies that ASIES prepared in September and November 1995 offer an outline of their reach. Considering the privileged presence of ASIES members in the government, the studies acquire greater relevance.

In relation to the "transformation of the tenure and use structure of land," ASIES points out the need to create new job opportunities, improve income distribution, increase production and productivity, generate wealth in the primary sector and give peasants real participation in the development processes.

To accomplish all of this, ASIES recommends "deconcentrating the productive resources," although it states that the deconcentration process should "be framed within legal and institutional mechanisms that respect the right to ownership of the land." The study recommends constitutional changes that should include "regulations for land ownership that are not being duly utilized."

In its strategy it also proposes modernizing and decentralizing land registry, a new rural register and a land bank. ASIES believes that a minimum of 400,000 hectares of land must be adjudicated to 50,000 families and a maximum of 1,610,000 hectares to 476,000 families to resolve the land problem. It also suggests "providing official certificates of unaffectability to owners of farmland that is fulfilling its social function."

In relation to the situation of public finances, ASIES proposes increasing direct tax income by bringing fines up to date and modernizing the tax review and control mechanisms. It suggests revising land tax by "bringing the tax on idle land up to date, the income from which could be maintained privately, earmarked for the acquisition of land for small and medium landless peasants."

In addition to all these changes, ASIES recommends improving efficiency in direct and indirect tax collection and studying a program to privatize some state assets. Of the resources thus obtained, 75% would go to social spending and 25% to the debt.

Peace Coming Faster

Various factors point toward accelerated peace negotiations:

* The process is encouraged by Arzú's active participation in it and by signals from the international community that it is open to financially supporting reconciliation and development when the armed conflict ends.

* The changes already affected by Arzú in the army and security forces augur well for less involvement by hardline sectors of these armed institutions.

* The presence of six representatives of the New Guatemala Democratic Front in the Congress opens a new political space for the left alternatives. In an interview from Europe, a URNG commander spoke of plans to incorporate the Democratic Front once the peace is signed.

Organized Crime

The new possibility that lasting peace may come soon has coincided with a dramatic increase in social violence and organized crime. In less than two months the police have already investigated 50 kidnappings (there were 150 in all of 1995). And for the first time in many years, the targets of the kidnappings are the economic elite: the president of the Coffee Bank, members of the Botrán family (liquor and sugar) and the Viejo family (Export Bank) and even a foreign stockholder in the Hotel Fiesta.

Although the local press does not report on kidnappings of individuals from the upper classes, unconfirmed stories circulate among journalists and correspondents of many other kidnappings of this kind. In the case of Coffee Bank president Eduardo González, his captors freed him after $5 million in ransom was paid. The details were not clear in the cases of the youth from the Botrán family and a member of the Viejo family, but their capture was reported.

Observers and official sources believe that the increase in organized crime responds to three interrelated factors. First, the layoff in January of 118 agents and officers of the National Police and the rotation of 250 to 300 posts in the army have affected numerous illicit businesses that depended on these positions of authority, on experience in specific areas of the country and on relations with illegal bands. The rupture of these links could be sparking the government's first "privatization" process: illicit businesses, historically linked to public power, could be going private. The increase in kidnappings could be the new business of those who were fired in January.

Second, the seriousness of the actions undertaken by the new government could be causing concern among organized criminals, leading them to react by increasing their "production" before the changes in the "market" affect them.

Finally, Minister of Government Rodolfo Mendoza believes that organized crime linked to the state apparatus is "taking the pulse" of the new administration, seeing how far it is prepared to go. Another variant of this theory is that those who oppose the changes being seen with the security reforms and the peace negotiations could use their control over common crime to weaken the new government. In this sense, it is no accident that one of the first victims of the new kidnapping wave was banker Eduardo González, who was mentioned in January as a possible COPAZ member.

The Wall of Impunity

The annual report of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric of Guatemala (ODHAG) noted that a new phenomenon in the logic of violence was consolidated in 1995: "The combined effects of armed confrontation, which has been prolonged with the peace negotiations, and a chart of social violence and organized crime typical of post conflict periods." Thus, even before the conflict and violence associated with the internal war are ended, Guatemala is already going through a stage of post war violence.

The ODHAG reported 1,782 violations of the right to life, of which 215 were extrajudicial executions, 1,067 murders, 249 attempted murders, 236 threats, 10 forced disappearances and 5 cases of torture. The chart has no important variations in relation to 1994 and the Human Rights Office is concerned about the persistance of impunity. "The framework of impunity that encourages the reproduction of these phenomena showed alarming signs of decomposition among agents and institutions charged with applying the policy of the state," concluded the report.

Among the institutional "links" of impunity, the report first cites the army, "without doubt the institution with the greatest influence on Guatemala's political life."

The Archbishop's office stated that "the inability of the laws and the official apparatuses to break the system of impunity" is partly due to "the transformation, in a framework of absolute impunity, of the counterinsurgency intelligence apparatuses, which has redounded against society." While the report is analyzing a situation that responds to the former government, the difficulties and obstacles faced by the more than a dozen important cases that have managed to make it into the courts shows that the logic of impunity is still being imposed.

The Wall of Secrecy

Although the wall of impunity has not been toppled, the wall of secrecy has begun to show cracks. In February, Siglo XXI published the transcript of declarations by a former military officer who accuses various colleagues of participating in car thefts, drug traffic and assassinations. Among the officers mentioned are General Marco Antonio González Taracena, General José Horacio Soto Solán and Colonel Mario Salvador López Serrano. López Serrano, who was the Escuintla base commander and now commands the base in Santa Cruz del Quiché, is the only one who still has a command post.

Coinciding with the numerous changes in the army during January, a document supposedly prepared by a group of active officers that call themselves PREGUA (For the Revindication of the Guatemala Army) began to circulate in the media and police circles. It names over 50 officers, with their graduation numbers, as corrupt, citing concrete cases of their activities. Political analysts close to the military institution believe that 40% of the cases mentioned in the document are genuine and that the others are not based in reality.

The interesting thing about the document, which confirms many accusations that have already come to the courts or to the press, is that it unquestionably came from a group inside the army. It ends with the following warning: "We will proceed to execute all those involved in the mentioned cases and all those for whom we have a corresponding dossier that is tragic for the Guatemala Army."

"The Syndicate" to Power

During February, two other documents with information that has always been jealously guarded by the army also found their way to the media. One gives the name and rank of the 84 officers who have occupied the highest army posts since January 22. The other is the list of almost 1,300 army officers who graduated between 1956 and 1971, in order of their graduating class.

An analysis of both documents shows that while the four highest posts are split among four different graduating classes, the seven most strategically important bases are under the command of officers from graduating class number 73 (1966), called "the Syndicate." The standard bearer student from that class is General Otto Pérez Molina, head of the Presidential High Command during the government of Ramiro de León Carpio and now Inspector General of the Army and the only army representative in the peace negotiations.

Another important conclusion that can be reached from studying the list is that over 60 of the 84 officers in command posts including 24 of those who head the 28 bases and barracks are scheduled for retirement this year or next if the bill cutting service time to 31 years for generals and 30 years for other officers is passed and goes into effect.

It is still virtually impossible to take an army officer to court to be sentenced for common or political crimes, but there are signs that the army is increasingly unwilling to go to the rescue of its officers who have gone astray. During the first week of February, agents of the National Police chased a stolen car even into a military neighborhood. The occupants fled, leaving the car in the middle of the street. The police agents saw them enter the house of Colonel Rolando de la Cruz Méndez, director of the national airport. Although the agents waited two days, no judge or attorney of the Public Ministry dared to issue a search warrant so that the agents could enter the colonel's house. The army, however, did suspend de la Cruz's functions and refused him support to cover the legal costs of the case.

With few exceptions, the officers who were accused of serious human rights violations have already been removed from their command posts in the army. Ronald Ochoeta, director of the Archbishopric's Human Rights Office, says that 53 officers have been suspended in recent weeks for this reason, but the army has not made this information public.

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