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Letters to the Editor. Politics in Colombia and Guatemala

December 30, 1985



Your editorial ``Colombian democracy'' (Nov. 15) misrepresents Colombia's political history. Colombian President Belisario Betancur's 31/2-year presidency is not ``a case study of the difficulties many Latin American leaders face as they try to bring their nations out of military rule into civilian control.'' The Colombian political experience is significantly different from that of Argentina and El Salvador. Unlike most Latin American countries, Colombia has enjoyed democratic rule for a long time. The military has intervened only three times since Colombia gained independence in 1810. Two interventions occurred in the 19th century.

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The military intervened for a third time in 1953 in order to put an end to the bloody period known as La Violencia, during which more than 200,000 lives were lost in civil strife throughout the country. The military promised to withdraw as soon as order was restored. When Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla seemed reluctant to give up power in 1957, the military retired him to the barracks and returned the country to civilian rule.

Since then, Colombia has been ruled through a democratic process by which elections are held every four years and a president leaves office and a new one enters without violence. Colombia, therefore, is a case study in the success of Latin American democracy. Martha Jimenez Bandler Forest Hills, N.Y.

The ``Guatemalan high-wire act'' (Dec. 10) is more akin to a person being shot out of a cannon. Be not fooled: the military still runs the show.

Even the leading candidates understood the real foundation of power in Guatemala before the elections ever came off. The military wrote the ``new'' Constitution (in which there can be no trials on human rights violations of the past). The military allowed only certain candidates to run (many of the others were killed or disappeared).

The elections were not complete. More than 35,000 votes of the disappeared are waiting to be counted, as are hundreds of thousands of votes of displaced Guatemalans living in fear in other countries. In order for there to be true democracy in Guatemala, there must first be justice. But justice was forgotten in Guatemala in 1954 when the CIA backed an overthrow that toppled Guatemala's only legitimately democratic government. Rev. Thomas S. Neilsen Indian Head Park, Ill. Lyonsville United Church of Christ

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''