US experts see hope of improved human-rights outlook in Guatemala

The writer recently returned to the United States from a trip to Guatamala.

Whether the military coup in Guatemala will lead to improved human rights in that war-torn Central American country remains to be seen.

Any such improvement would ease President Reagan's efforts to resume the military aid to Guatemala which was cut off in l977 following allegations of human-rights abuses.

The man in charge of the ruling junta since the March 23 coup, retired Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, has called for an end to political assassinations. He was the unsuccessful presidential candidate in l974 for the Christian Democratic Party, which is generally considered moderate. He himself, however, was not a Christian Democrat.

And, in Monitor interviews, several United States experts on Guatemala expressed differing views on how long Rios Montt might be in control anyway.

The coup is ''just a little twist at the top,'' said Richard Adams, one of the leading US scholars on Guatemala. ''It doesn't sound like there's a major change. The Rios Montt junta could very well be a front for Mario Sandoval Alarcon (a right-wing, defeated candidate in Guatemala's March 7 presidential elections),'' he added.

But a retired senior US diplomat with extensive experience in Central America said: ''The military is not likely to move for a man like Sandoval.'' The coup, he added, appears to be generated by those in the military who saw ''an impossible future'' for Guatemala after the election, amid charges of fraud, of former defense minister Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez.

The Army coup leaders saw little chance of obtaining much-needed military aid from the US under such a presidency, this ex-diplomat said. Guevara represented continuation of a government which had been strongly criticized by the US, he added, commenting that the coup improves chances of such aid.

A US congressional source said it was too early to tell what changes the new Guatemalan government might make. But, he added, ''It's hard to imagine anything could be worse'' than the now-deposed government of Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia.

Lucas was ''one of the cruelest assassins this world has known in a long time ,'' alleged Robert Carmack, Guatemalan expert at the State University of New York in Albany. But he predicted the moderates in the new government would lose power to hard-liners and human-rights abuses by paramilitary groups would continue unchecked.

A political aide and relative of Sandoval told the Monitor in a telephone interview that Rios Montt had no direct role in the coup and that Sandoval ''may not have been involved.'' He added: ''Things turned out as I hoped they would.''

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