Guatemalan ex-dictator sets sights to rule again Not on ballot, Rios Montt very visible in campaign

January 07, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GUATEMALA CITY -- Guatemalans will decide today which of two conservative career politicians should become their next president. But in many respects the vote promises to be a referendum on a man who is not even on the ballot: Gen. Efrain Rios Montt.

On paper General Rios Montt is merely the secretary general of the Guatemalan Republican Front, the right-wing party whose nominal standard bearer is Alfonso Portillo. But he is also a former military dictator of this Central American country; he has made it clear he would like to rule again, and he is said by his enemies to be using Mr. Portillo as nothing more than a stalking horse.

The other candidate, Alvaro Arzu, the 49-year-old nominee of the conservative Party for National Advancement, has been campaigning as if he were running against both men. He has warned voters that a Republican Front victory would mean "a return to the past, with all of its burden of pain, bloodshed and death."

In a debate Wednesday night, the only direct encounter between the candidates, a panelist asked Mr. Portillo, "If you win on Sunday, who will run Guatemala, you or General Rios Montt?"

The candidate replied that "Alfonso Portillo is nobody's puppet," but then added that General Rios Montt would "take power with me" and become his chief counselor and national security adviser.

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