JANUARY 28, 1980

Guatemala Guerrillas Drawing Indians Into Ranks for the First Time


GUATEMALA -Guatemalan insurgents for the first time have succeeded in incorporating sectors of the country's large Indian population into the armed struggle against the Government:

The so-called Guerrilla Army of the Poor is the main insurgent group, and although its leaders are middle-class students and intellectuals, many Indians, including some women, have been seen in rebel columns, which are increasingly active in the populated mountain regions of the northwest.

Over the last year, the guerrillas have temporarily occupied about 70 towns and organized political meetings at which speeches have been made in Spanish and Indian languages. Witnesses have also reported warm reunions between Indian guerrillas and their relatives.

The recruitment of Indians by the guerrillas has added a potentially significant dimension to Guatemala's political crisis. In the past the Indians have avoided the political disputes of the dominant Spanish-speaking minority, while most recent Governments as well as opposition parties have ignored their welfare.

In the mid 1970's, in a move that provoked the criticism of large landowners, President Kjell Laugerud Garcia supported agricultural cooperatives among the Indians. But the present Government of General Romeo Lucas Garcia has designed no special policies for them.

About 50 percent of the country's 6.5 million inhabitants belong to 22 different Indian groups, all of them broadly descended from the Mayans. Although they suffer deep poverty and chronic malnutrition, the have preserved their language, costumes, traditions and religion by consciously rejecting the influence of white society.

But because of the overcrowding, unemployment and food shortage in the central highlands, every year about 500,000 Indians are forced to migrate to tropical coastal areas in the south to work on the cotton, coffee and sugar harvests

They are Guatemala's principal earners of foreign exchange. Though without a political voice, the Indians thus play an important role in the country's economy.

The guerrilla group appears to have concluded that no socialist revolution is possible in Guatemala without the participation of the Indians. Founded in 1975 by the remnants of earner guerrilla groups, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor therefore abandoned the extreme left's traditional tactic of recruiting university students and instead established itself in the Impoverished northwestern province of El Quiche.

At first, even leftists in Guatemala City gave little importance to the group; arguing that the futility of the armed struggle had already been demonstrated by unsuccessful guerrilla experiences of the 1960's. The group, on the other hand, chose a strategy of "prolonged popular war" and maintained a tight structure of security that prevented infiltration by Government informers.

Until 1979, its actions were limited to assassinations or kidnappings of police chiefs and landowners and to destruction of crop sprayers used on the cotton plantations. The guerrillas also claimed responsibility for the killing last June of the army Chief of Staff, Gen. David Cancinos and for the kidnapping in October of Jorge Raul Garcia Grandos, a relative of President Lucas.

But be beginning with the occupation of the Indian town of Nebaj last February, the guerrillas expanded their political activities to prepare for escalation of the revolutionary war. More recently, the guerrillas have stepped up their military offensive by attacking army outposts and patrols.

Very little information is available about the size and composition of the Guerrilla Party of the Poor, but it is believed to number several hundred militants. Its simultaneous actions have been reported in widely scattered areas of western Guatemala. Further, while they have been unable so far to pose a major security problem to the Government, the group is reportedly growing steadily and has suffered no serious defeats.