Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 183 | Octubre 1996



Signing Peace and Building It

The Arzú government and the URNG have the challenge of making the peace documents something alive, so that the people back them with their active participation. That is the way to build peace for one and all.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

Last February, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein announced that the peace accords between the government and the URNG would very likely be signed on September 15, the 175th anniversary of Central American independence. At the end of August, the government Peace Commission (COPAZ) recognized that it could not meet that deadline.

Innumerable rumors immediately ran through Guatemala asserting all types of crisis in the negotiations. Some point to the URNG, suggesting that the hardly radical character of the accord signed in May regarding socioeconomic issues had sown discontent among URNG militants and not a few social organizations, obliging the guerrilla leaders to postpone the accord on following issues until they could recover consensus among their bases and with the popular organizations.

Other rumors point to the government. The proliferation of peaceful occupations of towns, farms, markets and university campuses by armed guerrilla groups to carry out propaganda was putting the government against the wall, since it would look as if it were putting up with the guerrillas if it continued negotiations without stopping the occupations.

What's really happening?
The Nearness of Peace

From the moment the new Alvaro Arzú government announced its conviction that peace could be signed in 1996 and was supported in this statement by the URNG, an end to the conflict appeared possible for the first time. President Arzú's unexpected purging of 6 generals and 250 middle level officers as well as the discharging of 118 National Police commissioners and agents, all in his first days in office, gave credibility to the idea.

That credibility increased with the meeting between President Arzú and the URNG commanders in Mexico, and with the guerrilla movement's unilateral declaration that it was ceasing offensive actions, immediately matched by a government order to the army to cease counter insurgency operations.

This context probably explains the rise in both organized crime (kidnappings, car robberies, etc.) and common crime, as well as corrupt schemes to evade justice (jail escapes by dangerous prisoners, loosening up of bail conditions or house arrest without vigilance, etc.). It is quite likely that the purged military and police have now "privatized" such lucrative crimes once carried out within the state organizations. The message of these crimes appears to be that even once peace is signed, criminal capital, born in the womb of the state and nursed by war, will continue defending its interests with arms.

A Peace Hard to Accept

The intransigent right still opposes legitimizing the democratic struggle for power of those who propose any kind of socialist program in Guatemala's future. whether from the guerrilla movement or the civilian left,

That right comes from the sector of coffee farmers and other producers that is still clinging to the past. They are among those who have exaggerated the dimensions of the URNG occupations. The ANACAFE president, for example, claims that "the town takeovers violate the law, because the guerrillas are armed, intimidate people and disarm the authorities."

The weekly newspaper Cronica reports that ANACAFE has asked the government to "include a demand in the negotiation agenda that these actions cease."

For his part, COPAZ president Gustavo Porras stressed that the occupations are remnants of guerrilla actions that realistically show that the war has not ended, despite the cease fire agreed to by both sides. His message is that the armed revolutionaries cannot be asked to act as if peace has already been signed.

When the URNG stopped charging its guerrilla tax after signing the socioeconomic accord, the same right that protested against that tax turned the focus of its protest against the peaceful occupations. What it cannot accept is the fundamental basis of the negotiations: the recognition that the war had real roots that fed the armed rebellion of a sector of the Guatemalan population. It cannot accept not having achieved what it wanted: a war that ended with the guerrillas' destruction.

From the URNG perspective, it is evident that the accords already signed have not convinced all its militants and more than a few of its intermediate-level members are giving the leadership problems. The resignation of the URNG leadership's political advisory group shortly after the socioeconomic accord was signed is no secret.

That accord offers no arrangements that envision structural changes for a more equitable distribution of wealth in Guatemala. It tends only to offer concrete measures for a more agile and efficient rural development, as well as for a review of illegal adjudications of national land in the Petén and Northern Transversal Strip.

It is understandable that this is not enough to justify so much spilled blood and the effort of so many years of struggle, and that more revolutionary peace accords were hoped for. But to try to make revolution in the current circumstances is to inaccurately read the current situation and its real correlation of forces.

Peace for Pluralism

Peace will not emerge from the accords that end the war. The political premise from which both sides are negotiating right now appears to be that peace is built, not decreed. The URNG leadership has published a significantly titled document: "Guatemala: Full Democracy-- The Revolutionary Goal at the End of the Millennium". On the government side, Gustavo Porras has also stated that "what has made peace possible has been the uphill climb towards democracy."

The URNG and government views share a minimal point of convergence: that in today's Guatemala the peace accords will make possible political pluralism, an institutional framework in which any societal project can be proposed as a political program and can be elected to government through free elections.

This was really the fundamental proposal of Guatemala's 1944 "Revolution," blocked for over 40 years by Guatemala's intransigent rightwing capitalists with support from the CIA's conspiratorial forces in the Cold War context. It is truly dramatic that the blockade to this moderate proposal has cost hundreds of thousands of victims.

This proposal's vulnerability comes from the grassroots distrust of electoral procedures to produce democracy. It would be dangerous to forget the electoral abstention levels in Guatemala, which represent the majority of citizens.

Peace in a New Framework

Gustavo Porras' emphasis on the Arzú government's negotiating capacity because it has "broad legitimacy, an extensive level of dialogue with Guatemalan society and wide support in the international community" suffers from excess optimism. The government's legality is unquestionable, but its legitimacy is not. Although it is well founded institutionally, its participatory basis is very precarious.

The other two aspects that Porras points to are more solid. Regarding what he calls "dialogue with Guatemalan society," he alludes to the fact that Arzú's government is made up not only of members of PAN, his own modernizing rightwing party, but also of people who, like Porras himself, come from a leftwing not repentant but adapted, are business executives with some social concern and a certain level of humanism, or, like Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein, are intellectuals experienced in progressive international organizations. The apparently close relationship between Alvaro Arzú and Rigoberta Menchú is not insignificant. This opens doors to the Mayan population for the government.

International support for his government is a strong card in Arzú's hand. A foreign policy with multiple links that makes greater independence possible and connects not only inevitable but desirable interdependence reflects international acceptance of his government while at the same time building that acceptance.

The presence of Mexico's President and Cuba's Foreign Minister at Arzú's inauguration pointed in a direction that was later reaffirmed by other political diplomatic signs. Among those signs were Arzú's prompt rejection of the Helms Burton law, his absence from the Central American summit in El Salvador "convoked" by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher (he chose instead to keep his commitment to return the Mexican President's visit) and the moderated manner in which Guatemala distanced itself from the scandal over Cuba's shooting down of the "Brothers to the Rescue" airplanes, noting Cuban sovereignty over its air space and territorial waters.

Arzú's absence during Christopher's visit to San Salvador contrasted with his presence in San José for the visit of Chile's President Frei and the Japanese Prime Minister, and with his organization, as Central American host, of the South Korean President's visit to Guatemala. Arzú also visited Taiwan and was present in Ottawa for the Central American Presidents' meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister. He is now awaiting a visit from the Canadian Foreign Minister.

In addition, Arzú's Foreign Minister has visited Spain, Germany, Italy and the Vatican. In Spain, the Guatemalan government offered apologies for the first time for the 1980 burning of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala by security forces and for the death of Guatemalans who had taken over the embassy to make their demands to the government from there.

Spain and other European countries agreed on a meeting in November of those governments that will finance government programs necessary to put peace into practice.

Foreign Minister Stein also visited Geneva during the UN Human Rights Commission meeting and succeeded in persuading that organization to accept Guatemala's request to be advised in its compliance efforts, rather than only being observed from a distance.

Peace to Negotiate Better

The objective of this notably active foreign policy strategy is to insert Guatemala in political globalization with the most extensive diversification possible, weaving multiple alternative networks to balance its traditionally preponderant links with the United States.

The contacts with Mexico, Chile and Cuba--opening a commercial interests office, in addition to the political aspects already mentioned--point to a search to put down roots in Latin America which would give the government greater negotiating power with the guerrillas. Supporting Central American integration and its promotion is an attempt to build these networks from the most immediate regional space, to make the Central American countries more capable of negotiating together.

The Arzú government has manifested its preference that Boutros Ghali continue for another period as UN General Secretary. It is evident that he plans to support the aspirations of Africa and the Arab countries. It would appear, then, that the Arzú government is also trying to rescue the second of the three objectives of the 1944 Guatemalan Revolution: democracy, diplomatic political independence and economic modernization or development.

Accelerated Peace

Gustavo Porras compromised his credibility when he announced that the URNG and the government had decided to sign definitive peace in 1996. "This," he stated, "is a certainty," which, according to him, was based on the conviction by both sides that this was the moment to sign.

There are two overwhelming reasons for this. The first is the need to present a national economic and financial budget that includes the programs needed to put the peace accords into practice. The second is that the countries willing to offer funds for the implementation of the peace programs need the drafted requests by the end of the year.

Arzú's decision--first as candidate and later as President--to respectfully recognize the revolutionary positions, when he met with the still-insurgent URNG leadership while some substantial and operative steps in the negotiation were still not in place has opened a situation to the revolutionaries that could not be better to conclude the negotiations and establish a dignified peace.

The perspective that the FRG, General Ríos Montt's party, responsible for the scorched earth policy and the massacres of the early 1980s, could have come to power, probably accelerated the revolutionaries' decision to accelerate peace. On the government side, it accelerated the conviction that sustainable development efforts are impossible without peace and that the war makes it impossible to attack corruption in the army and in the state. For this government, composed in part of serious administrators and, above all, programmed by them, corruption is a gross liability, an element of economic irrationality in the long term.

The signing of an accord on strengthening civil power and the role of the army in a democratic society remains pending. Some people still say that the URNG will take a more demanding posture than expected. For example, FRG Assembly member Pablo Duarte declared to the Crónica that the revolutionary leadership hopes that "since the socioeconomic accord was very general, what comes out of these discussions will not be very colonel??."

For Héctor Rosada, COPAZ president during the two and a half years of the Ramiro de León government, the army has already lost power and finds itself "corralled, divided, confused and without leadership." Rosada and a number of others think the army won the war but the guerrillas are winning the political battle in the peace negotiations. "The army," says Rosada, "was defeated by corruption and internal ambitions. That is to say, its inability to manage the corruption issue put the army in a vulnerable position at the moment of negotiation."

These recent declarations by Rosada to a Sunday supplement of the Siglo XXI newspaper are interesting because they explain why the previous government could not progress further on the road to peace: it was afraid of the army. As Rosada bluntly stated, "Today it is said that if Ramiro de León Carpio had known how easy it was to behead the army, he would have made other decisions."

Rosada, however, does not agree with what he terms the army's "beheading." "It is one thing," he explains, "to combat delinquency in the army and another to be unable to manage a qualitative change in the counterinsurgency in the transition to democracy. It's one thing to stop being a counterinsurgent army and become a state institution in a democratic country and another for the institution to be beheaded."

It is curious that Rosada does not speak of army corruption as anything more than delinquency, that he does not speak of another corruption, which is the tremendous abuse of power that has led to such brutal human rights violations. It is important that he calls the "change that occurred on January 14 and tremendously weakened the institution" a "beheading."

A Better Peace with Arzú

Rosada says that Ramiro de León always knew that the URNG would not sign a peace accord with a government as weak as his, with no party behind him. But he forgets that De León rose to the presidency with a great consensus of civil society and preferred to support himself on the army as a substitute for his own political strength. In that sense, Rosada's revelation is not odd that two of the three Defense Ministers De León named decided on their own to open secret talks with the URNG, "giving the URNG more belligerence than it merited and making a decision that the rest of the army did not participate in."

Certainly, it is to Guatemala's advantage that peace be signed between the guerrilla and a government that has already risked a lot to establish its civil authority over the army, rather than being signed with a government that chose to have the army as its social force of political support.

State Policy or Trade off?

The Arzú government maintains that peace is not a negotiation that balances "what you give me with what I give you," but rather a state policy, part of a national project that any government should work for from a democratic institutionality. To conceive of peace as mere negotiation would be no way to decide on the Guatemalan people's future.

The governmental concept appears to have much of a utopian view. While the concept of "trade off" that Rosada points to is a bedrock pragmatism that comes up short against what is at stake in the peace accords, Porras says that the new army, for example, should view its fundamental function as restricted to defense of sovereignty and territory and as the final guarantor of constitutional order. But he also recognizes that other secondary functions, like internal security or the fight against drug trafficking and other types of organized crime, as well as offering support to other state institutions, cannot be discarded. "An army exclusively in the barracks," he said, "is a useless army that should be eliminated." Its size and activities should be determined on the basis of national projects and international conditions that are unforeseeable and can be surprising, but that somehow must be anticipated. For Porras, the violence in Mexico is one such "surprise" that will have to be considered in the accord on the army's role in a democratic society. Rolando Morán, one of the URNG commanders, has expressed similar considerations about the army's role.

Unless it is assumed naively, the posture of negotiating peace as a state policy is consistent with a better future for Guatemala. As legal documents, the peace accords will be worth their weight. But that weight cannot be measured if they are not backed by powerful social forces in Guatemalan society. Arzú's government is only one of those powerful social forces.

The mistrust of many social groups, both organized and not, takes strength away from the building of peace, beyond the documents. The challenge for the Arzú government and the URNG, once the latter is reincorporated into legal political life, will be to get the numerous sectors of the Guatemalan people to participate in making peace a reality that respects human rights, develops pluralistic political programs, builds respect for Guatemala's cultural diversity, and becomes the most effective route towards Guatemalan's human development.

Gustavo Porras recently said that building peace would go through four processes to construct a state that is "in solidarity with those who have nothing and subsidizes those who can build with something or with a lot." One process will be to develop exceptional emergency programs (repatriation, reinsertion of former combatants from both sides, compensation for human rights violations victims, and attention to the displaced). Another will deal with social programs of education, health, work and culture--which will be developed from the accord on indigenous rights. A third implies investments in sustainable development. And a fourth will address the reform and modernization of a democratic state. The first and last appear to be the current government's highest priorities.

Peace to the Test

At this moment--the dark before the dawn--the Arzú government, in the judgment of the URNG leadership, must increase its credibility through a more effective battle against those causing public insecurity, and an economic policy that is at the same time a social policy and thus combats the growing poverty, the deceleration of economic growth and above all, the phantom of recession.

In all of this it remains to be seen if the forces with a social conscience have more weight in the Arzú government than those who cling to their rightwing atavism of purely private interests. For its part, the URNG will have to resolve the challenges of its political viability, counteracting the left's disintegrating impulses and integrating itself into the country's political spectrum, which includes, for example, deciding whether or not it will dialogue with the New Guatemala Democratic Front.

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