“The most important thing is that human rights violations are no longer the will of the government. Naturally they persist, but they are actions of the army, or of other persons,” said Monsignor Juan Girarde. Girarde, former bishop of El Quiche, had to leave the highlands in 1980 because he fell out with the army over his sympathy toward the Indians. /F NOTHING ELSE, at least Guatemalans are today cautiously testing the limits of what they hope is a new era of tolerance under Cerezo. Under the past government, for instance, Congressman Mulet and Monsignor Girarde would not have openly told a reporter that the army is guilty of murder. Moreover, today groups assemble daily in front of the National Palace to protest one cause or another. Only a few relatives of the disappeared were brave enough to do this when the generals were inside. Union organizing has slowly resumed as well. “I can already detect in the workers a very positive reaction. But there is fear and suspicion that this space of freedom will not be very long and durable and that, in any moment, the army will return to power,” said Julio Celso de Leon, a labor leader who has suffered the disappearance of dozens of his colleagues and was himself kidnapped by the army last September. Though the army is reluctant to relinquish control of the security apparatus, the generals are not anxious to occupy the palace again. The military was thoroughly discredited under the former chief of state, Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejra Victores. The only option was to step down. The international lending community had blacklisted Guatemala because of its backward economic policies and its continued human rights violations. Inside the country, Guatemalans were bitterly disgusted by the army’s blatant corruption. And the military allowed the country’s economy to degenerate to almost 50 percent unemployment and underemployment and 40 percent inflation. When Meji’a stood to inaugurate the Pan American Games in Guatemala last fall, the entire crowd booed him an event unprecedented in Guatemalan history. The international community appears grateful for any change from Gen. Mejra referred to by one Western diplomat as “the Neanderthal.” Spain has offered technical instruction to Cerezo’s restructured National Police. Germany has offered 80 million marks to Guatemala for development projects in the countryside. The Reagan administration has asked Congress to approve $10.5 million in military aid along with $133.7 million in economic aid for fiscal year 1987. U.S. military aid to Guatemala was frozen from 1979 to 1985 because of human rights abuse. Cerezo knows he cannot rehabilitate the army, but he can try to give it better table manners. To some degree, the army has been a willing, if clumsy, student. In March, for example, officers handed over a suspected guerrilla from Chimaltenango Province to civilian authorities. Normally, the prisoner would have been tortured and summarily executed inside an army base. “The new instructions to the military elements are to try by all means to protect the lives of the citizens,” said army spokesman Capt. Fernando “The new instructions to the military elements are to try by all means to protect the lives of the citizens.” Cifuentes Herrerra. \(The military launched anti-guerrilla sweeps in the Mayan highlands in 1982 that killed thousands of villagers, some armed guerrillas, some suspected collaboraIn the capital, residents report there are fewer soldiers in the streets. Several colonels have peacefully vacated lucrative immigration and customs offices. And Cerezo sent the former army chief of staff, Gen. Rodolfo Lobos Zamora one of the most powerful officers to a foreign embassy. Yet, eight months into his four-year term, Cerezo has scarcely tampered with the army’s most controversial counterinsurgency programs. Plans continue to build more model villages, which are army-constructed relocation camps. The residents all Indians live under constant army vigilance. East Dallas Printing Company Full Service Union Printing 211 S. Peak Dallas, Tx 75226 Moreover, all able-bodied men are still required to participate in the armyorganized civil self-defense patrols. Villagers complain that the once-a-week patrol duty takes them away from their fields and prevents them from leaving home to find work. Cerezo has vowed to demilitarize the model villages, and he says he plans to make the civil patrols strictly voluntary, but it has yet to happen. The new president is sensitive to criticism that he is soft on the military. “I’m not working too easily with them. I’m trying to maintain the stability and consolidate the democratic process. And why, if they do the things I need them to do, should I be harder than necessary with them?” he asked. Most galling to some Guatemalans is Cerezo’s refusal to fight a law passed in the twilight of the outgoing military regime that gives amnesty to all officers for past political crimes. The bill was a last-ditch effort to prevent the type of far-reaching military trials that Argentina conducted. Cerezo has finally agreed to set up a mixed human rights commission to look into the unsolved abductions. But he publicly accepts responsibility only for human rights violations that have occurred since he took charge. That posture has enraged the GAM, an outspoken human rights group seeking the whereabouts of disappeared relatives, and the San Carlos University community, which has also been hit hard by the violence. “Only when they punish the murderers will we have justice,” shouted a hooded university student during a recent demonstration in downtown Guatemala City. If democracy is predicated on justice, then Guatemala still has a long way to go. 1886 1986 CARIt li PN COME STAY & CELEBRATE OUR 100th YEAR P.O. Box 8 Port Aransas, TX 78373 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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