The New York Times Magazine
August 24, 1980, page 16

Guatemala: State of Siege

Political violence in Central America has spread since President Somoza was overthrown in Nicaragua last year. In Guatemala, terrorism on both the left and the right has polarized society, reaching the point where hopes for peaceful and moderate solution are quickly disappearing.

By Alan Hiding

A column of khaki-clad guerrillas seized control of San Pedro La Laguna, a picturesque tourist spot on the banks of Guatemala's Lake Atitlan, one evening recently. Young men with automatic rifles took up positions near the cobbled entrance to the little market town, while others summoned the local Indians - and about 40 nervous American tourist - to the main plaza for a public meeting.

"We're for ORPA, the Organization of People in Arms," a guerrilla leader said, speaking in Spanish through a megaphone. "We've come to tell you that the bloody Lucas dictatorship will soon be overthrown." Two young rebels translated the message into the Quiche and Tzutuhil languages of the region, and the crowd of several hundred immediately responded. Children surrounded the guerrillas and touched their rifles, women giggled excitedly behind woven shawls and solemm men in straw hats leaned forward attentively.

The guerrillas then denounced the brutality of the army patrols, the recent aerial bombings of hamlets in the nearby Sierra Paraxquin and the continuing attacks of right-wing vigilantes in the region. One Indian stood up to complain that land speculators were trying to steal the community's valuable lakeside properties. An Indian woman reported that her husband had been taken away by the army two months earlier and had not been seen since.

Finally, the tourist were called over. In broken English, one guerrilla explained the purpose of the occupation, the nature of the Government, the reason for the armed opposition. He asked the Americans to tell their friends about the "suffering" of the Guatemalan people. "And please," he said, looking at three long-haired backpackers, "don't smoke marijuana in front of the Indians. It is a bad example for them." The rebels then handed out pamphlets, painted ORPA's initials on the walls of the town hall and, after a two hour long occupation, withdrew without firing a single shot.

The incident was reported in a two paragraph story in the national press. It was not news. Leftist guerrillas have been active in Guatemala for almost 20 years. In urban areas they carry out frequent assassinations of army and police officers, right-wing politicians and conservative businessmen, while in Guatemala's western mountains they regularly take over towns and to hold propaganda meetings. Sometimes, they even grab local "enemies of the people," hold quick public trials and shoot them.

But what has alarmed Guatemalan conservatives is that the guerrilla columns are no longer made up solely of middle-class radicals. Suddenly, Indians are also taking up arms and swelling the rebel ranks.

The Indians, who make up 55 percent of Guatemala's 7.2 million inhabitants, have traditionally been passive, isolated by their languages, emerging from their communities only at harvest time to work for a pittance on the cotton, coffee and sugar plantations of the southern coast. And the leftist guerrillas have always been hopeless dreamers, posing no serious challenge to the regime.

But things are changing at a dizzying pace in Guatemala today. In the year since Nicaragua's Sandinist guerrillas overthrew the Somoza regime, revolutionary fever has swept north. Although the situations in Costa Rica and Honduras have remained relatively stable, in tiny; impoverished El Salvador, which has been wracked with terrorist assassinations by both the left and the right, the opposition bloc called a recent nationwide strike, accompanied by street fighting, a "preinsurrectional action." And in the last few months, Guatemala, the most populous and wealthy country in Central America, has suddenly been destabilized. Lyle situation there is particularly disturbing to the United States, since a leftist Government in this small nation, whose northern boarder is only 120 mites from Mexico's vast oil fields, would inevitably have close ties to Cuba.

The roots of Guatemala's problems lie deep in its own inequitable social structure, but events elsewhere in this tightly knit region have provided the spark, inspiring the left and frightening the country's conservatives. The resulting wave of violence has in turn polarized the society and eliminated all hopes of a moderate solution.

On the right, murder squads have fumed against all visible "enemies." Since January, 63 student leaders, 41 university professors, 4 priests, 13 journalists, 38 opposition-party officials, dozens of labor leaders and hundreds of peasants have been killed. In all, right-wing terrorists have assassinated some 2,000 people in the last year.

Many Guatemalan businessmen and foreign investors. convinced that Guatemala is the new target of a "Communist plan for Central America," shed few tears for murdered leftists and insist that only a tough response can avert a Communist victory. "There is a back-to-the-wall feeling in the private sector," one foreign executive explained. "Businessmen and farmers are rushing to arm themselves; they are determined to fight."

But like Nicaragua's Sandinistas, Guatemala's leftists have long realized the importance of an early alliance, with non-Marxist groups, and even the moderate opposition, such as the Social Democratic Party, has concluded that armed revolution is now the only available strategy. And the labor movement; though decimated by murders and disappearances, is slowly beginning to ally itself with the country's guerrillas. The change is most dramatic in the countryside. The repression and deepening poverty that have accompanied two decades of skewed economic growth have begun to awaken the Indians politically.

The military Government of President Roman Lucas Garcia has suddenly recognized the threat. In recent months, it has sent thousands of soldiers into the hills to crush the "subversives," and has even resorted to aerial bombardment of Indian villages suspected of harboring guerrillas. It has also stepped up its forced recruitment of young Indian men into the military. But the harsh methods of the army, which is made up of about 18,000 troops and is well-equipped by Central American standards, are merely feeding the anger and indignation of the Indians and pushing the guerrillas into the role of their "saviors." "No one has ever been able to organize the Indians." a Guatemalan businessman said, "but if anyone should, God save us."

Guatemala is a country of rare beauty. Though only the sizes of Ohio, it has dramatic variety in its landscape. And its Indian culture has always attracted American and European tourists. The Mayan ruins of Tikal are hidden in the lush rain forests of the northern province of Peten. To the west, rows of volcanoes are interspersed with lakes that change color by the hour. Around Atitlan, a sacred lake for the Indians, inns and weekend homes are springing up, while the capital, Guatemala City, a fast-growing metropolis of 1.2 million people, is crowded with modern hotels decorated with Indian motifs and restaurants where waiters wear Indian dress. For tourism, at least, the Indians are good business. Last year alone 500, 000 foreign travelers visited Guatemala.

The tourists, however, rarely see the country's political terrorism. The army does not raid tows when the tourist buses are there and the tour guides now steer their groups away from danger zones. "Violence is no obstacle for the growth of tourism in Guatemala," Alvaro Arzu, the national tourism director, stated confidently the other day.

But the deep poverty of most Guatemalans is more difficult to hide. Some 350,000 people, who abandoned their shacks at the bottom of muddy ravines after the fierce February 1978 earthquake, now live in highly visible hovels beside a six-lane highway in Guatemala City. In the countryside, the Indians live in wooden huts with mud floors and no light or water, illiteracy reaches 80 percent, underemployment is chromic, infant mortality exceeds 100 per 1,000 live births, and four out of five children are undernourished. Generations of poor health have caused impaired eyesight and an above-normal rate of mental retardation, while babies are often born with tuberculosis, contracted inside the womb from their mothers. The Indians, according to a recent United Nations report, are as poor as the poorest in Bangladesh, Somalia or Haiti.

Yet, 450 years after the Spanish conquest, Guatemala's Indiana survive more as a race and a culture than any other indigenous people of North or Central America. Some Indians have migrated to urban areas and most non-Indians--or Ladino-Guatemalans--in fact have some Indian blood. But on the whole, the Indians have preserved tightly knit family and social structures and a world view that has its roots in the Orient, whence their forefathers came some 10,000 years ago.

Although all are descended from the Mayas, Guatemala's Indians speak 23 languages and 100 dialects. But they retain much in common: They are deeply traditional highly respectful of theirs elders and profoundly religious in a formally Roman Catholic, but more mystical, way. "They have a cosmovision," explained a Guatemalan anthropologist "They do not resist nature-- they are part of it. They see life as cycles of destruction and construction, so they accept life as it is." More than anything, they are attached to the land and the corn they grow.

The Indians have always rejected and distrusted the world of the Ladinos, with whom they must trade -- underpaid for their products and overcharged for their purchases. And they must constantly resist Ladino efforts to take over their communal lands. They hate the "army of the whites" which forcibly recruits their sons and returns them 30 months later as alienated young toughs. But they expect nothing from the central Government. Guatemala is a nation of two societies, but it is run by--and for--the Ladinos.

The shortage of land is beginning to disturb this centuries old armistice.. Because more and more Indians are willing to travel to urban areas for better health care, their population has grown rapidly during the last 20 years. Each generation, therefore, must endlessly subdivide family farms among sons. In addition, their farmlands are exhausted and yields have fallen sharply. At best, the small holdings now produce enough corn and beans to last the average family six months of the year. So, to survive, the Indians must migrate to the plantations on the southern coast.

Every summer, the middlemen arrive in San Martin Jilotepeque in Chimaltenango province to sign up the workers for the winter harvests. "No one wants to go." a community leader explained. "but they have no choice. The labor contractors offer an advance and the Indians need the money to buy corn because their own supplies have run out. So they sign up.''

Three months later, they are brought to the lowlands and housed in huge open-sided sheds, which, according to the International Labor Organization are "totally unacceptable with regard to hygiene, health, education and morality." The Indians are given corn and beans by the landowners, but the, must use nearby streams or irrigation canals as wash basins and toilets.

The worst conditions though the best pay are on the cotton plantations. Here pesticide spraying levels are so high that shipments of meat from cattle ranches in the area are frequently rejected by the United States Department of Agriculture because of their high DDT content. Studies also show that DDT levels in human blood in the cotton districts are eight times higher than in Guatemala City. Yields, though, are among the highest in the world. "It's very simple," explained Eduardo Ruiz, a young cotton planter. ''More insecticide means more cotton, fewer insects mean higher profits."

But little concern is shown for those living and working in the region. Around Tiquisate, the biting smell of DDT is in the air for months on end. At the height of spraying, 30 or 40 people are treated daily in the nearby Government clinic for the toxic effects on the liver and other organs. "The farmers often tell the peasants to give another reason for their sickness, but you can smell the pesticide in their clothing " a nurse said. "And we know the symptoms--dizziness, vomiting, and weakness. Only people who die in the clinic are reported. Otherwise bodies are buried on the farms.

Each year about 500,000 Indians come to the southern coast. So difficult are conditions. In the mountains that some Indians are now migrating farther afield. Sparsely populated northern regions of the country are in fact being opened up by new roads but much of the best land has been taken over by army officers and wealthy families attracted by its farming potential and by reports of oil and mining reserves in the area (the Government claims there are proven oil reserves of 35 million barrels although production is currently only about 10,000 barrels per day).

In the mid-1970's the Government promoted the development of cooperatives among the Indians in the hope of improving their welfare. But cheap Indian labor is the key to Guatemala's economic boom of the last two decades. Not only is 70 percent of land owned by 2 percent of the population but the best land is given over to coffee, cotton and sugar, all labor-intensive crops destined for export. And with producers pitying low wages at home and obtaining good prices abroad a few Guatemalan families have made vast fortunes. Often educated in the United States these hard-working, aggressive entrepreneurs have in turn diversified into light industry, real estate, tourism and banking. "This country has grown a lot in the past 20 years" said one businessman active in several sectors of the economy. "We've turned the south coast into the richest farming land in the Americas. We've created thousands of jobs. Just look how Guatemala City has expanded. Look at the middle class that has emerged."

Although new jobs have been created in agriculture and industry, wages, taxes and Government expenditure on social programs have lagged far behind the profits of the successful few. In the 1970's Guatemala's oil-import bill began to skyrocket, causing serious inflation-the current rate is about 15 percent--for the first time in memory. But wages rose slowly and the purchasing power of most workers actually fell. As the economy grew by an average of 6 percent per year the majority of Guatemalans became poorer.

For several years activist Roman Catholic priests most of them foreigners, have been trying to organize the Indians to defend themselves, at least economically, and they have begun to succeed. On Feb. 15 this year, a squabble began at El Triunfo sugar mill when the administration insisted on weighing cane out of sight of the cutters. The Indians presumed they were being cheated and went on strike. Word quickly spread and soon 75,000 cutters stopped work. After 17 days, the Government finally decided to negotiate, agreeing to raise the minimum wage for the first time sine 1972-by 186 percent to $3.20 a day. The big landowners were furious that the Government had "surrendered" and immediately began dismissing workers. Last June, some 100 peasants, believed to have participated in the strike, "disappeared" from around Tiquisate, and the Government denies knowledge of their hereabouts. But despite the repercussions, the Indians saw that it was possible to fight and win.

Growing repression had also disturbed the passivity of the Indians. Some of it has been brought upon them by the guerrilla activities, but they blame the army. Much of the violence, though, can be traced to land disputes, notably when wealthy Ladinos have tried to evict Indians from land they have settled. In May 1978, Indians crowded into the eastern town of Panzos for a meeting with an agrarian official who had promised settlement of a land dispute. Instead, soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing 102 men, women, and children.

In mid-January, a group of Indians fro Quiche province, one of the areas most affected by political violence, came to Guatemala City to demand an independent investigation into their charge that the army had murdered or captured dozens of peasants from around the town of Uspantan, but no one in the Government or Congress would receive them. At about 11 A.M. on Jan. 31, 27 of them, including several leftist students, occupied the Spanish Embassy there and took 15 hostages. Heavily armed police immediately surrounded the building, but the Spanish Ambassador, Maximo Cajal y Lopez, twice telephoned the Foreign Minister to demand that the security forces be withdrawn because an agreement had been reached with the occupiers.

Instead, police climbed onto the embassy roof and began to break in. As they smashed down the door to the room where the occupiers and their hostages were crowded, one of the militants threw a Molotov cocktail and the entire building went up in flames. Thirty-nine people, including a former Vice-President and a former Foreign Minister who were visiting the embassy at the time, were killed. Miraculously, the Spanish ambassador and another visitor managed to escape.

The Guatemalan Government immediately blamed "extremist psychopaths who seek to take power with ridiculous and antipatriotic arguments of supposed social demands." Spain was outraged by the unauthorized police attack and broke off diplomatic relations with Guatemala.

But the strongest--and unpublicized impact of the tragedy was felt in the Indian communities of Quiche. "I think it was the turning point for many people," explained a Roman Catholic priest who works in the region, "The Indians sent their delegates down to Guatemala City to beg for justice and they came back in coffins. They won't send any down again." Support for the guerrillas and militant peasant groups in the area immediately, increased. But, so did repression.

Throughout the highlands, the Indians are beginning to stir. On May Day this, year, Indians in traditional costumes carried defiant banners past the National Palace in Guatemala City. Entire villages now sympathize with-- and feed and shelter--the guerrillas. And when the army arrives after rebel occupations, it can find no one who has seen a thing. "'There are places where guerrillas have executed all Government informers," a priest said. There, they feel entirely safe."

The guerrillas frequently attack army patrols and isolated garrisons-- more than 100 soldiers have been killed this year--but their main work is still, political. Much of their propaganda is aimed directly at the Indians. Illustrated pamphlets from ORPA, for example, instruct the Indians on self defense, urging them to dig deep "caves" as shelters from aerial bombing. Women are told that, salt and hot chili peppers mixed in a bowl of water can blind a soldier, and men are told to have their machetes and axes at the ready. "The army, takes our sons and then sends them to fight against us," one pamphlet said. "The best way to fight the enemy is not to give them our sons for the army."

Inducted from their villages, Indian draftees are tied up for days, then given a humiliating form of training that includes being forced to insult their parents and their Indian heritage and to pledge blind loyalty to the army. They are instructed repeatedly that the Communists are the enemy. But as more and more Indians join, the guerrillas, Indian youths are being told by their elders that they must not kill their blood brothers. One apparent result has been a significant increase in the number of Indian recruits who have committed suicide, particularly at the Jutiapa military camp in southeastern Guatemala.

Many Guatemalan conservatives still refuse to believe that the long-tranquil Indians are turning rebellious, confident that elimination of a few thousand leftists will restore calm to the countryside. "The present upheaval and much of the violence in Guatemala," Ira Lewis, vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala, told a senior American official recently "are caused by small, extremely vocal groups...manipulated by forces from outside Central America to the detriment of all the Americas." But the evidence to the contrary is growing. The Indians may be fighting more against repression and the theft of communal lands than for the socialism espoused by the guerrillas, but they are nevertheless beginning to fight. Priests in the region say that about one quarter of the guerrillas are now Indians.

Political violence hats been part of life in Guatemala since 1954 when the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency organized an invasion to oust the left-leaning Government of President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. He had encouraged the growth of peasant arid worker unions, but when he expropriated land belonging to the, U.S. owned United Fruit Company, as part of his agrarian reform, he was branded a Communist in the eyes of a Washington on cold-war alert.

Once the man chosen by the United States, Carlos Castillo Armas, was installed, he set about killing hundreds of Arbenz followers, while thousands more, including Arbenz himself fled into exile. Worker and peasant organizations were dismantled and peasants were pushed off land they had been given. ln 1954, Vice President Richard M. Nixon's visit to Guatemala City was seen as an American endorsement or the new regime. And with Washington by their side, domestic conservatives breathed a sigh of relief: Communism would never again be allowed to threaten them.

The fierce anti-Communism born at that time has dominated Guatemalan politics ever since. Peaceful responses to popular unrest have rarely been tried; violence is always an easier and faster answer. In the mountains the army chases the guerrillas and intimidates the peasantry. But in the cities, it has been left to "hit squads," made up of plainclothes soldiers, police or just paid gunmen. "Disappearances" were common here long before Argentina's military regime made them notorious.

For years, the left and even the Social Democrat and Christian Democrat opposition have struggled to find a way to transform Guatemala's near-feudal social structure. In the early 1906's, clearly inspired by the Cuban revolution, leftist guerrillas appeared in the eastern province of Zacapa. For a while, they were able to act with considerable freedom, attacking, occasional army patrols, "liberating" villages and frequently bringing journalists up from Guatemala City for relax ed interviews with their leaders. American military advisers in the capital despaired at the incompetence of the Guatemalan army. But in 1966, advised by U.S. Green Berets, a tough-minded officer. Col. Carlos Arana Osorio, nicknamed the Jackal of the East by the left, launched a fierce counterinsurgency offensive, killing thousands of peasants and hundreds of guerrillas and forcing rebel survivors to flee.

Rural guerrilla warfare had failed, so urban terrorism was tried. Among its victims were United States Ambassador John Gordon Mein and two American military attachés in 1968 and a West German Ambassador in 1970. But by then, the "guerrilla hunter" Colonel Arana, had become President and, assisted by a right wing gang known successively as The White Hand and Eye for an Eye, he went after the guerrillas and their sympathizers. Every night, plainclothes agents raided homes and every morning bullet ridden bodies were scattered along the highway to El Salvador. Even moderate opponents of the regime lived in fear. Adolfo Mijangos Lopez, a paraplegic opposition deputy, felt protected by his wheelchair. On Jan. 13, 1971, as he left his downtown law office, he was machine-gunned to death. Amnesty International has estimated that there were 20,000 victims of political violence in Guatemala between 1966 and 1974.

The guerrilla strategy was fast losing its appeal. After all, rebels in Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua had done no better, while in Chile President Salvador Allende Gossens had come to power through peaceful elections. So a left-of-center coalition backed a liberal officer, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt for the 1974 elections. This, too, was a failure. When the first results indicated that Rios Montt was the clear winner, troops took over the supposedly independent electoral registry and suspended the count. One week later, the Government announced that its candidate, Gen. Kjell Laugerud Garcia, was the victor. Even the local U.S. Embassy recognized that a huge fraud had been carried out, but there was nothing to be done, "There was no massive reaction to the fraud," Rios Montt explained at the time, "because there are no genuine popular organizations in Guatemala."

So the answer did not lie in guerrilla warfare or in elections, the left concluded, but in popular organizations. The Laugerud Government, in a rare effort to respond politically to unrest, encouraged the rural cooperative movement and recognized dozens of new unions. A new Marxist group, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor, was formed in 1975, and it concentrated on political work among the Indians of Quiche. ORPA followed a similar strategy in Solala and San Marcos provinces.

By election time in 1978, the private sector and right-wing parties were alarmed by the growing popular organizations. On the eve of the elections, which most labor and peasant coalitions boycotted. Guatemala City was paralyzed by a strike of municipal workers. And, three months after Gen. Romero Lucas Garcia took over on July 1, 1978, the capital was shaken by strikes and riots to protest increased bus fares. To rightists, this was no coincidence. A few weeks earlier, Nicaragua's Sandinist guerrillas had launched their first - and abortive - insurrection against the Somoza regime. This was clearly a Communist conspiracy against Central America. It was time for a new purge. The Secret Anti-Communist Army was born.

There are no political prisoners in Guatemala, it is said, because they are all dead. And this has never been closer to the truth. The right's strategy has been to "decapitate" the popular organizations and the political organizations through selective assassinations. And, in so doing, it has driven even the moderate opposition underground and revived hopes for a guerrilla-led revolution.

Early last year, two popular and respected opposition leaders were still fighting for democratic change. Alberto Fuentes Mohr, a former Foreign Minister, headed the Democratic Socialist Party and was a member of Congress, Manuel Colom Arguena, a former Guatemala City Mayor, had been assured that his Social Democratic United Revolutionary Front would, after six years of fruitless applications, finally be registered. On Jan. 25, Fuentes was gunned down in his car. On March 22, just one week after his party had been legalized, Colom Argueta was also murdered. "I've heard that the price of registering the party is my head," he told a reporter a few days before his assassination.

The left attributes the political murders to the Secret Anti-Communist Army, or E.S.A., who identity remains a mystery. But the opposition claims that the army and police are directly responsible. Even the civilian Vice President, Francisco Villagran Kramer, who joined the Lucas ticket in 1978 with the understanding that the administration would be reformist, now blames the regime for much of the violence. He had repeatedly announced his intention to resign in protest, until he was warned that his life was in danger if he did so. The licence plates of cars used in assassinations have been traced to the judicial police, while police vans were used to carry away 27 labor leaders who were grabbed on June 21 this year and who have not been seen since. Some wealthy Guatemalan businessmen are known to be financing the E.S.A. and in private, they argue that the hit squad is, in the words of one cotton planter, "a distasteful necessity." Others claim no knowledge of such activities but have nevertheless closed ranks with the Government in its fight against Communism. A few liberal businessmen, who respect their companies' trade unions and pay above-average wages, are unwilling to raise their voices in favor of social reforms or political liberation for fear of reprisals from the extreme right. "We've recognized a union internally," one foreign executive said, "but we told the workers not to register with the Ministry of Labor because this would only expose them to the E.S.A. Our interest in not entirely unselfish, of course. If one of the union leaders gets rubbed out, we'll be on the left's death list."

The main private business group, however, known by its Spanish acronym, CACIF, is solidly behind the Government and has launched an expensive anti-Communist publicity campaign. The conservative political parties have also patched up their squabbles, Mario Sandoval Alarcon, the fierce anti-Communist who heads the National Liberation Movement, boasts of a 3,000 man private army. The movement, which he once described as "the party of organized violence," can "mobilize 100,000 to support the military," he said recently. Last month, President Lucas asserted, "My Government is capable of controlling the subversive movements no matter how much support they get from abroad [because] the agitators have no popular support."

But, though terrorized, the opposition has not been intimidated. The focus of opposition activities is now the Democratic Front Against Repression, formed ln February last year by more than 150 political groups, unions and peasant organizations which are currently trying to mobilize political support abroad. The Socialist International, above all, has begun denouncing the Guatemalan situation in Western Europe, while Amnesty International has a similar campaign in the United States.

In Guatemala, though, the response to the Government is being left increasingly to the four guerrilla groups -- the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (E.G.P.), the Organization of People in Arms (ORPA). the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR) and a faction of the Communist Guatemalan Workers Party (P.G.T,). The fact that four groups exist reflects the bitter internal squabbles that have long debilitated the Marxist left. PAR broke away from the P.G.T., for example, while the E.G.P. and ORPA each broke away from FAR. But the groups, which describe themselves as "politico-military organizations," now seem to be moving toward unity, not only by dividing up the country into regions and coordinating their military activities, but also by apparently agreeing to seek a ''popular democratic" Government not unlike Nicaragua's Sandinist regime, where non-Marxist though liberal political parties and a limited private sector have been preserved. "The objective would be socialism," one guerrilla sympathizer said, "but, just as in Nicaragua, this would take time."

Their urban terrorism has added to the atmosphere of gang warfare. Some of their tactics are plainly terroristic, notably kidnappings tor ransom and assassinations of military, political and business leaders. The head of

alienated them. They blame Washington for the ouster of the Somoza regime and the chaos in El Salvador and see in Al Salvador its "unguided liberalism'' undermining "democracy" here. They are therefore lobbying conservative United States Congressmen and gambling that a Reagan victory in November will revitalize Washington's traditional policy of "anti-Communism" in Central America.

In Guatemala City, the speculation is that the Government will refuse to accept Landau as the new American Ambassador. Some conservative Guatemalans, who boast close contacts with the Reagan campaign have even called for a rupture of diplomatic relations with the United States while President Carter is in the White House.

The irony is that Washington's critics in Guatemala today are the same ultrarightists it helped place in power after the 1954 coup against President Arbenz. And the reforms it is now promoting are little different from his. "What we'd give to have an Arbenz. now," one American official recently conceded.

But no such option is available and Washington faces a starker choice. The possibility of a leftist Government's alliance with Cuba Is extremely undesirable. Yet the Carter Administration also recognizes that the roots of Guatemala's troubles lie in its own social and political structure. And repression rather than "resolving" the problem as it did in the 1960's now seems to be aggravating it. Strong United States criticism of the Lucas Government, though will probably further destabilize it and encourage the left.

The answer to Washington's dilemma--whether to support "wild bloody revolutions" or "wild bloody fascists" in the words of one official--may have been provided by Guatemala's left and right: They are both telling Washington to keep out and let Guatemalans sort out their own problems. Certainly short of military intervention, the United States seems unable to control the chaotic forces that are now convulsing Guatemala. U.S. policy makers on Central America find solace in a remark the late Dr. Hans J. Morgenthau made many years ago: "The real issue facing American foreign policy is not how to preserve stability in face of revolution but how to create stability out of revolution." Perhaps today it might be put even more simply: We should wait and see.