GUATEMALA CITY, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Ricardo Ramirez, a rebel leader
turned national peacemaker, died on Friday of heart failure, fellow
ex-guerrillas said on Saturday.
Ramirez, who was also known as Commander Rolando Moran and was one
of the four top leaders of Guatemala's former rebel armies, was 67.
"His contributions to the revolutionary struggle and the peace process
extremely valuable," fellow rebel leader Jorge Soto, formerly known as
Commander Pablo Monsanto, told reporters at a news conference.
After spending most of his life in armed rebellion against the state, in
1990s Ramirez became one of the architects of peace in Guatemala.
He took a leadership role during five years of peace talks between rebels
and the government that led to a December 1996 peace treaty ending
Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
At the time of his death Ramirez was serving as the secretary general of
political party being formed by the former guerrillas of the Guatemalan
National Revolutionary Unit (URNG).
Ramirez had tuberculosis as a child, and lost one lung in an operation.
Wednesday he was admitted to a hospital, where he underwent surgery. On
Friday night internal bleeding led to the heart attack that killed him at 10 p.m.
(0400 GMT Saturday).
Ramirez was the son of an army colonel, and joined the rebels in the early
'60s after being involved in labour organisations and student revolutionary
groups. In 1972 he helped form the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP),
which became the largest of Guatemala's four separate rebel armies.
Ramirez spoke six languages and lived much of his life in exile, in
Czechoslovakia, Ecuador, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina, where he was
briefly jailed for revolutionary activities.
In 1982 Ramirez and the commanders of Guatemala's three other rebel
armies formed a combined force called the URNG, with a revolutionary
platform calling for elimination of repression and land redistribution.
Although the rebels were severely weakened by the army's scorched-earth
counterinsurgency campaigns of the early 1980s, the war continued into the
1990s. The four guerrilla commanders began formal peace talks with the
government in 1990.
On Dec. 28, 1996, Ramirez and his three fellow commanders were received
by an ecstatic crowd of young leftists at Guatemala's international airport in a
triumphant return to the country after years of exile.
The next day Ramirez gripped the hand of President Alvaro Arzu. Together
they saluted crowds of Guatemalans cheering the signing of a peace treaty
that contained ambitious government promises to reduce the armed forces,
give rebels a limited amnesty and respect the rights of Indians.
Arzu visited Ramirez's wife on Saturday morning to pay his respects.
Ramirez is also survived by three sons and four grandchildren. Ramirez's
casket was scheduled to lie at party headquarters on Saturday. He was to
be buried on Monday.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.