The Hidden Faces of the New Government
Are government and guerrilla forces no longer at odds? Will an amnesty be given to those who shed so much innocent blood? Will there be an end to the serious violations of human rights that still occur? Is there an attempt to fracture the labor movement? To diminish the army’s influence? Numerous are the questions to be answered in the new epoch that dawns in the country.
Analyses of the significance and scope of the socioeconomic and agrarian accord signed May 6 between the government and the URNG began surfacing throughout May. The reactions of many are comparable to those of a family in which the grandmother dies the same night a new granddaughter is born: great joy mixed with such sadness that neither full celebration nor complete mourning take place.
While evaluations are still pending of the stage now ending and of the perspectives that are just appearing, what is indisputable is that this socioeconomic and agrarian agreement is a watershed. It opens the door to a new stage in which the insurgency begins to participate as a force in Guatemala's political arena and in which the government is committed to guaranteeing the opening of political spaces that have been closed for some forty years. It also frames a period in which the government, private sector and international community will determine the nature of the economy and the state, a task that for decades has been the exclusive terrain of Guatemala's military.
Agreement Among Non Antagonists?The May 6 agreement makes important modifications to the proposals that the URNG had made in 1995. References to needed modifications to the Constitution, the Agrarian Transformation Law and land adjudication decrees in the Petén and northern transversal have been eliminated. There is no reference of any kind to "the social function of land," nor is there language referring to the need to increase direct taxes. What was signed does not alter the government's macroeconomic policies nor does it include direct references to a gender policy favoring women.
"The accord reflects a reduction in the URNG's claims," conclude analysts of a multilateral development bank in a private memo. "Detailed consideration of it indicates to us that [its contents] largely coincide with the activities that the current government of Guatemala is promoting."
Hector Rosada Granados, formerly president of the Cristiani government's Peace Commission (COPAZ), also highlighted the modification of the URNG's posture. "We conclude that if the URNG gave up all the basic demands it had previously held and agreed to endorse a document containing the basic postulates of a social development policy within a neoliberal framework, we can no longer speak of negotiation, but rather of political agreement among non antagonistic parties."
"It's a shame that, with this accord, some points were left off the transformation agenda," added Rosales, "since society still lacks the political ability to continue the negotiation of these serious national problems." Not including such problems, he says, "condemns the impoverished and excluded majorities to wait, yet again, for a well intentioned government to demonstrate that it is capable of carrying out its promises, even though that could mean it must act against the interests of those sectors that are its fundamental political base of support."
Dollars for PeaceRosales says that the agreement "can be interpreted as the first written expression of a social development policy to show to the international community." The multilateral bank analysts agree: "Based on this agreement," they say," the new government would be willing to broadly promote its needs for financing peace, with an emphasis on obtaining non reimbursable resources."
After signing the socioeconomic and agrarian accord, Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein and current COPAZ president Gustavo Porras announced that the government will propose that the URNG participate in a joint diplomatic campaign to seek international financing to implement the peace accords. According to the government's General Planning Secretariat (SEGEPLAN), the cost of making the accords work is some US$600 million, while an international agency has estimated it at US$953 million. The fact that the agreement emphasizes the importance of investment as a factor in development opens the doors to a combined strategy in the search for financing after the final agreement is signed.
A Risky Road To PeaceIn this new mode of "political agreement between non antagonistic parties," the negotiations face serious risks. Days after the signing of the accord, the daily paper Siglo XXI reported that the political diplomatic team that had been advising the URNG's General Command had dissolved. Its members resigned because they did not agree with the contents of the accords. One of those resigning was Pedro Palma Lau, the URNG commander with the highest level of military responsibility. According to some sources, the conflict inside the General Command and within the middle levels of the guerrilla forces is so serious that it could lead to armed confrontation. According to these same sources, the speeding up of the negotiations is due in part to fear that the Command will be unable to make it to the final signing of the accords without significant cracks in its ranks.
Another risk is that the negotiations are increasingly emphasizing the agenda's operative aspects, leaving aside the underlying issues that are of greatest interest to those most affected by the war. In this regard, one key issue that will come up soon on the agenda is that of an eventual general amnesty.
In anticipation of a possible "agreement" among the two parties, a number of human rights groups have expressed opposition to any amnesty hammered out without the participation of the victims of violence. One proposal put forth by the Archbishop's Office on Human Rights is that amnesty be applied only to those who confess their crimes. Others, like human rights activist Helen Mack, oppose any amnesty program that does not take into account the perspective of those who for years now have been the victims of intense repression.
"The victims or the families of the victims are going to want two things," Mack said in an interview. "To know the truth and to see justice done. And in the interest of reconciliation, the state or the authorities must not strip them of this right." The sister of Myrna Mack, a Guatemalan anthropologist assassinated by the army in 1990, concludes that "implementing an amnesty program would be once again crowning impunity. Thus it becomes very important to take into account the population that has been affected by the violence."
"Pandora's Boxes"Coinciding with the debate over amnesty, new reports have come to light detailing the role of the security forces in a number of political assassinations. In May, a US plane delivered a number of boxes from the US State Department containing declassified information related to Guatemala. Out of these so called Pandora's boxes came 6,000 pages of reports, communications and documents. They were received by the Supreme Court of Justice then transferred to the Public Ministry to be examined. To date, the government has revealed nothing of the contents of these boxes, though researchers and human rights groups from the United States have begun leaking information based on copies of the documents circulating in Washington.
On May 3 Ricardo Miranda, Washington correspondent for Siglo XXI, revealed three letters from 1983 saying that a National Police chief gave orders to his officers to kill six people. "You are assigned the murder tonight of US citizen Jack Shelton, who is at the benches of this body's officers' pavillion, accused of being subversive..." The letter was signed and sealed by the departmental chief of Suchitepéquez.
These documents revive memories of the harsh and cold way that the authorities, with full institutional backing, acted as both judges and executioners, safely swathed in the mantle of impunity.
Blood Still Flows: A "Social Clean Up?"If the declassified State Department documents serve to refresh the country's collective memory, headlines in the daily papers and the cases gathered by the UN Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) are serving to demonstrate that blood continues to flow in Guatemala.
In March, in the Supplement to its Fourth Report to the MINUGUA Director, the mission published some "illustrative cases" of human rights violations that it has uncovered in its verification of charges accepted during 1995. Of a total of 1,567 violations, 555 were of the right to life and 411 of the right to personal integrity and security. Here we reproduce 4 of the 37 cases published by MINUGUA.
Case 1: "On December 19, 1995, Francisco Edgard Pinelo Mijangos was killed by a bullet to the head as he fished on the Petén Itzá. The bullet was fired by a sentinel at the Northern Air Base.... After being apprised that the Public Ministry was starting an investigation, the commanding officers interviewed the witnesses, acknowledged the incident to MINUGUA and sent the soldier to the military court in Zacapa. On January 2, 1996, the military judge granted the soldier 'liberty with house arrest without guards at his workplace.' At the end of January, the soldier who had fired the shot was returned to his air base and promoted to 1st corporal. It was verified that the soldier was 17 at the time of the incident."
Case 2: "On July 26, 1995, Gilmar Fernando Miculaz Tuctuc, 19 years old, was intercepted and beaten by a patrol of soldiers from the Honor Guard engaged in an anti crime operation. Early the next morning his body was found on a street in the same neighborhood, with six bullet wounds.... During the Mission's verification, the Honor Guard authorities gave inexact information and concealed data important to a clarification of the events. Thus, it was found that two soldiers involved had not deserted, as the Mission had been informed in an explanation of why they were unavailable for interviews."
Case 3: "On September 6, 1995, in El Porvenir, Petén, Humberto Oquelí was killed by three individuals who ambushed him and fired upon him in the presence of witnesses. Two of the attackers, as established by MINUGUA verification, were commissioned officers. Both are currently being held for their alleged participation in the death of Francisco Diaz, deputy mayor of Belen, San Benito, on October 16, 1995. The authorities in military zone 23 have denied any link between a G 2 major and one of the alleged perpetrators, whom the major visited in prison. A number of sources agree that the two detained commissioned officers were part of a "band of killers" and that one of the accomplices acted with the knowledge of state agents."
Case 4: "Between August 1 and 5, 1995, in different areas of the capital, the bodies of five people were discovered, all with wounds caused by 9mm bullets. Some of the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs. The National Police confirmed that four of the bodies had a finishing mortal shot. The police characterized the victims as criminals, given the way they were dressed and the tatoos they had on their bodies."
To date, the Mission has not registered any progress in investigating the cases outlined above or those presented in earlier reports as indicating an overall "social clean up." Since the end of November 1995, the Mission has been verifying some 20 new cases that, given their characteristics, could well be understood as further actions of the same type.
From Panzós to XamánDuring the last week of May, coinciding with the commemoration of the 17th anniversary of the massacre of over 200 peasants in Panzós, Alta Verapaz, a judge decided to free eight of the soldiers accused of an indigenous massacre in Xamán, Alta Verapaz in October 1995. Those favored by the decision, including Sub Lieutenant Camilo Antonio Lacán Chaclán, head of the military unit, were under house arrest. The army promised to keep an eye on them.
MINUGUA, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Archbishop's Human Rights Office all questioned this legal decision. Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchú, who represents the victims and their families in the case, fears that Lacán Chaclán could "disappear" and the real facts of the massacre would be forever unknown.
Anti Union LawOn May 23, the governing Party of National Advance (PAN) bench in Congress used its majority to approve, with no need for an alliance, a law regulating the right to union organizing and strikes by state workers. The law redefines the concept of "essential" services, broadening the category to include health, water, mail, telecommunications, transportation and security services, as well as the generation and distribution of energy and fuel.
The new law spells out that "in cases of strikes, if they imply the abandonment or suspension of work in a collective form, or affect public services deemed essential, the government has the power to cancel work contracts and appointments without prior legal authorization and without accruing any responsibility."
Opposition deputies criticized the shady way in which the PAN used its control over Congress to skirt the legal paperwork required for legislation, including the necessary step of having each legislative commission related to the topic go over the bill. Mario Alberto Carrera, writing in Siglo XXI, says that, according to the new law, "if the right to strike is banned, a union becomes a guild, club or association. The only real and effective instrument a worker has is precisely this: the power to paralyze production or the activities of a firm or the state."
An Occupied CongressThe day the law was approved, army troops occupied the Congressional building. This unusual event sparked severe criticisms of the government and, for a number of days, no government official wanted to accept responsibility for this intervention. A week later, upon his return from Taiwan, President Arzú admitted that he had given the order by telephone, adding that he would do so again, as many times as necessary.
The approval of such clear anti union legislation, without either consensus or compromises and with the Congress surrounded and occupied by the military, is for many a worrisome sign of the new government's hidden face, and shows that one of its objectives is to neutralize the union movement before beginning the process of privatizing state companies.
Approval of the law was preceded by direct contact between the government and unionized state workers. The result of this shows how weak the state workers are. Former union leader Miguel Angel Albizures characterized the military presence in Congress as "a sign that the law goes against the interests of the people, and in this case against the workers' interests." Nonetheless, there have been few shows of popular support for the state workers.
In general, the perception that most public service users have of state workers is negative; daily one hears stories about their abuses, inefficiency and arrogance. This is partly due to the unions' defensive stance, which precludes purging its corrupt members. No one ever hears of a union getting rid of corrupt workers, identifying absentee teachers or police officers with phantom posts. The unions make no attempts to rectify illegal charges in customs or abuses of authority by the security forces.
The result is that workers have no credibility with the public, and that translates into the meager support the workers received from the public at this time of crisis. In turn, this lack of support further weakens the unions. The presence of the security forces in the Congress suggests that the government overestimated the unions' capacity to respond.
The Army on DeckOn June 7 8, COPAZ and the URNG General Command met in Mexico to establish a specific agenda for the upcoming round of talks Strengthening Civilian Power and the Army's Function in a Democratic Society. If conclusions can be drawn from the recently concluded round, the next agreements will not bring changes that fundamentally question the Guatemalan army's institutional interests.
The proposal put forward by the Assembly of Civil Society (ASC), prepared as a contribution to the negotiation process, is that the army's specific function be "the defense of sovereignty in an external context." This would imply reducing the army's size, resigning its traditional role in internal security and subordinating itself to civilian and constitutional control. The ASC also demands the end to "any and all special privilege for members of the army, as well as to the regulation that the Defense Minister be a military officer."
The ASC insists that "the army should not carry out development activities and that the machinery, equipment and material currently in the hands of the army earmarked for social development (health, education, infrastructure, etc.) be transferred to the appropriate ministries or organizations."
The Army's VisionThe Guatemalan army has a much more ambitious view of its future. In a document prepared recently by the Ministry of Defense, the Chiefs of Staff lay out their own proposal for "the Guatemalan Army of the future."
The document defines the army's dimension, function, resources and legal base in a process "understood as reorganization, restructuring and modernization." The army today 46,000 strong proposes a reduction to three divisions with 10 12,000 troops, along with two reserve divisions.
It discusses relocating the military units so as to safeguard national sovereignty: "Changing the concept of military deployment in a national context of an internal conflict to one of foreign threats."
The functions of the "army of the future" do not vary much from the constitutional tasks assigned to it currently. They include "safeguarding national sovereignty" and "involvement in internal security operations in those cases where the capacity of the Public Security forces has been exhausted." In addition, the army "should have the ability to support anti drug trafficking operations as well as those efforts aimed at protecting the nation's natural resources and cultural patrimony."
The new army will not necessarily be less costly and the joint chiefs warn in their proposal that "a smaller army must invest in technological resources." The modernization process should include "revitalizing air and naval resources to comply with the functions of this institution within the context of modern society, as is demanded by Guatemalan society today."
The army is willing to accept the "definitive separation of military crimes from common crimes," but the crimes "must be judged in a purely military" environment. Traditionally, the army has tried its own members without thought to whether the crime was a common one or somehow linked to military activities.
Regarding the Ministry of Defense, the army proposes a significant increase in educational opportunities for officers and in educational requirements for promotions, with studies including international law, humanitarian law, business administration and economics.
Although the proposal neither mentions the future of the army engineering corps nor speaks of military participation in the construction of infrastructure or provision of social services such as literacy and health, there are areas in which the army is interested in increasing its presence. It wants to create posts for military attachés in Guatemala's embassies, send military delegates to its permanent UN missions in New York and Geneva and "broaden the network of military attaché posts where they already exist, with the immediate suggesion to create an additional post in Europe."
What Will Happpen?
There are many signs that military influence is still important in the new government: the army's role in combined operations against crime, the strong evidence of military pressures in the case of the Xamán massacre, the government's reluctance to investigate MINUGUA's charges in cases where armed forces members are involved.
Undoubtedly, the current political scene is the result of fruitful negotiations between the country's traditionally powerful sectors and the new government. The result of reaching "agreement" with the private sector is clearly expressed in the socioeconomic and agrarian accord. The results of "agreement" between the army and the government will only be revealed with the final unveiling of the "agreement" achieved in the next round of dialogue between the government and the URNG.