Four years later, Guatemalan peace promises still unfulfilled
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (AP) -- Four years ago Friday, a sweeping
peace deal brought one of the world's longest, bloodiest civil wars to a close
with promises to solve the economic and social problems that led to the fighting.
Signed here in front of 1,200 foreign dignitaries, the agreement ended
of fighting between hard-line state forces and leftist, mostly Indian guerrilla
groups in Guatemala. The once-seemingly fragile peace has held since then, and
there has been no recurrence of the brutality that left some 200,000 people, the
majority Mayan peasants, dead during the war.
However, 119 of 250 measures aimed at undoing centuries of repression and
ease the country's staggering poverty have yet to be enacted.
Promised, but still unseen, are land reform and agricultural subsidies,
election laws, the overhaul of Guatemala's justice system and laws guaranteeing
the protection of human rights. Other unrealized goals include resettlement of the
100,000 refugees who fled to Mexico to escape the war, legal recognition of
Indian rights, a full disarming of former combatants and clear legal limits on the
The peace treaty set the end of this year as the deadline for implementation
reforms, but on Dec. 13 President Alfonso Portillo unveiled a new schedule
extending the deadline until the end of 2004. The new plan moves
anti-discrimination measures, women's rights, health care and education reforms
to the top of the agenda.
On Friday, Portillo was scheduled to mark the peace accord's fourth birthday
laying a rose in front of a downtown peace monument and then having lunch
with hundreds of children who "have been allowed to grow up in a peaceful
"We have learned that peace has a cost but also a benefit," Portillo said
at a news
conference trumpeting the new peace schedule. "We will now realize more of
Critics, though, charge that four years of inaction show the government
interest in keeping its promises.
"A rescheduling was inevitable because there was no way we could meet the
December 31 deadline," said Arnoldo Noriega, an ex-guerrilla commander who
was a member of the original commission overseeing the peace accords. "Even
after this convenient extension, we will have to see a major shift in political will
during the next two years or we will lose forever the chance to meet goals vitally
important to Guatemala."
Some blame the Congress, headed since January by former dictator Efrain
Montt and controlled by the conservative party he founded. During an 18-month
dictatorship between 1982 and 1983, Rios Montt oversaw one of the bloodiest
stretches of the war, orchestrating a scorched-earth campaign against the rebels.
"The problem is that the same actors trying to resolve the peace process'
are the ones who committed them," said Hector Rosada, a former peace
secretary. "The last word on important questions lies with Efrain Rios Montt, a
man who does not believe in the peace accords."
Rios Montt attended last week's press conference announcing the new
peace-process schedule but left without commenting.
In a 1998 report, the Catholic church's human rights office in Guatemala
the army for 95 percent of the killings and disappearances during the long civil
war. And last week, the office said it will press local courts to try Rios Montt for
allegedly ordering massacres in the 1980s. That marked the first time
Guatemalan courts have been asked to try him.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.