Guatemala faces uncertain future under new president

Issue 

Guatemala faces uncertain future under new president

By Huberto Estrada S.

On May 26, José Domingo García, who was then defence minister, stated that Guatemala's vice president, Gustavo Espina, had resigned along with the president, Jorge Serrano Elías. Scarcely a week later, on June 3, he told a different group of journalists that the previous statement was incorrect and that in fact Gustavo Espina had not resigned. Moreover, he would be the new president.

Neither Serrano nor Espina are still in power, General José Domingo García was dismissed by the recently elected president, and constitutional order has been reinstated. The military structure, however, remains intact.

New President Ramiro De León Carpio has put forward the idea of a national unity government — but with the same parties and political leaders.

The Civil Associations Coalition — which brings together all forms of grassroots and non-government organisations — demands that its members be allowed to participate in those decisions that affect the community in general. They particularly hope to ensure their participation in the negotiations aimed at ending the armed conflict with the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG).

These grassroots movements, along with international pressure, played a vital role in the recent drama by thwarting the army's plan first to use Serrano as the front man for its coup d'etat, and then to substitute Gustavo Espina.

Unable to defeat the URNG insurgents, the Guatemalan army attacked any semblance of grassroots resistance. The armed forces recently stepped up the bombing of the Communities in Resistance (indigenous communities which fled to the mountains to escape army attacks. They have continued attacks on refugee camps, distributed new lists of people with pending death threats, and repressed student protests against

corruption and military control, killing school student Abner Abdiel Hernández.

Meanwhile, a member of military intelligence, who had been imprisoned for the murder of US farmer Michael Devine, "escaped" from the Mariscal Zavala army barracks.

A few weeks before the coup, the US Department of State pointed out that the president's military staff had to be purged.

Happiness and uncertainty are the feelings expressed by the different sectors of the popular movements. On June 6, the Nobel prize winner and indigenous leader, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, pointed out that the indigenous population, a 60% majority, had been ignored in every decision taken during the crisis. She said that she hoped human rights measures would be strictly enforced and that those responsible for the crimes and massacres over the last 30 years would be brought to justice.

De León Carpio called for calm and common sense, and said that the return to democracy would be a long and difficult process. Ominously, he argued that because of the continuing conflict between the army and the URNG, it would not be possible to reduce the military budget.
[The writer is a Guatemalan lawyer and general secretary of the Central American Foundation.]

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