Promise of peace in Guatemala Sunday signing: Long civil war's end may not end poverty, crime and anarchy.

December 25, 1996

GUATEMALA'S government and rebels plan to sign a final treaty Sunday to end 36 years of civil war that killed at least 100,000 and perhaps 140,000 people in that little, poor country. It will arrive none too soon.

Support from the rest of the Americas comes in the form of an $84.8 million loan package. It was approved by the Inter-American Development Bank to rebuild infrastructure that was destroyed by war. Involved representatives of devastated communities will help choose the projects.

Unfortunately, what was war has given way to crime and anarchy. Negotiations were interrupted when a guerrilla chieftain helped to kidnap a business magnate's elderly wife, leading to the chieftain's arrest and the removal of his superior in the guerrilla movement from the peace table. But kidnappings are all too common, for ransom not ideology.

And where the police have committed atrocities and prevented investigation, people who want law and order or retribution have gone on a rampage of lynchings. A mob broke into a jail and burned four men to death who had been suspected of robbing a bus. Three teen-agers were dragged from a jail in a mountain town and similarly immolated, one of them having killed a man in a canteen brawl.

When President Alvaro Arzu and the rebels do formally end the longest-running civil war in the Americas, they will not necessarily have brought true peace to their people. They will only have done away with the formal war and the excuse for anarchy. Economic reconstruction and social peace will be the next challenge, the two going hand in hand.

Pub Date: 12/25/96

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