At last, a peace in Guatemala Accord signed: Oldest civil war in Americas may actually be ending.

September 30, 1996

REBELLION broke out in Guatemala in 1961 and still goes on. Cuban-backed Marxists seeking to overturn the military regime installed by the CIA seven years earlier found support among Guatemala's Indian majority.

The results so far are perhaps 140,000 Guatemalans dead and one Nobel Peace Prize, in 1992, to the Indian rights crusader and victim of army atrocities, Rigoberta Menchu. People born when this war began, having survived, are 35 years old.

The peace signed in Mexico City on Sept. 19 caps five years of United Nations mediation efforts and follows six months of de facto cease-fire. Its secret is the enhanced prestige of the current elected president, Alyaro Arzu Irigoyen, who purged the army high command of its most corrupt elements early in the year. Even so, fears of army reprisal are rampant.

President Arzu's anti-corruption purge struck right at military intelligence, which is suspected of lucrative links to organized crime, as well as to assassinations, disappearances and torture during the 35-year dirty war. This is where the U.S. stands embarrassed.

The Pentagon has released instructions in techniques of dirty war as taught in training manuals used at its School of the Americas, which trained Latin American military officers in Panama from 1946 to 1984 and at Fort Benning, Ga., after 1984. Officers from Guatemala took part, and manuals were distributed to other officers back home.

In Honduras, arrest warrants have been issued for three former military torturers, who are in hiding. Guatemala endured greater atrocities, and must still make agonizing choices between retribution and reconciliation.

Under Guatemala's accord, the army will give up internal security duties and restrict itself to defending the borders from foreign foes, shrinking by one-third in the process. Previous agreements have dealt with Indian grievances on land distribution and human rights.

There is a catch. A police force to take over internal security duties has yet to be created. No agreement is reached on the means of reintegrating some 2,000 insurgent fighters into national life. But the timetable agreed to last month calls for a truce to be signed in Oslo next month, and a final agreement to be signed in Madrid not long after that.

When peace is finally and irreversibly achieved in that poor country of 10 million, one of the sorriest results of U.S. intervention in Central America will be ended, and Guatemalans will be able to concentrate on rebuilding their national life.

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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