PBS special argues democracy isn't working in Guatemala. Guatemala vies with Carol Burnett drama for viewers

Under the Gun: Democracy in Guatemala PBS, Sunday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings. Producers: Robert Richter and Patricia Goudvis. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama are in the headlines these days, but Guatemala is seldom mentioned. After 30 years of military domination, the world seems to have forgotten that Guatemala, since January 1986, has been under civilian rule.

Not so Robert Richter and Patricia Goudvis, producers of ``Under the Gun.'' They want to know if Guatemala is really on the road to stable democracy at long last.

Their film seems to begin with the assumption that nothing much has changed and that nothing much is going to change soon. They question the chances for regional peace, in light of the continuing problems inside Guatemala.

According to the film, Guatemala is the Central American country with the greatest US investment, the richest resources, the largest population. It is also the geographically closer to the United States than any other country in the region.

A series of experts interviewed - mostly critics but a few government supporters, as well - contend that there can be no democracy unless the new government of Vinicio Cerezo redistributes the land and satisfies those who demand justice for the dead and disappeared. According to the many talking heads in this documentary, the military still maintains control; land inequities and human rights abuses continue.

``Under the Gun'' is basically a political tract. The film's premise is that, although there is now nominally a democratic civilian government, it must take action quickly, or it is doomed. Every now and then, the filmmakers seem to remember that they should be more balanced, and so they include a quick comment from somebody who defends the slower pace of progress or even the status quo. But basically the documentary has a political point to make and makes it proudly.

The unfortunate result is that the viewer feels the point of view, valid as it may be, is being forced upon him. And the footage gives short shrift to the beauty of the countryside itself. There is little of the breathless sweep of the landscapes or the colorful culture of the multi-ethnic population. There is only a portrait of poverty, indignity, dissatisfaction. It is almost as if the producers felt that breathtaking graphics and simple illustrations might intrude upon the viewer's ability to concentrate on the politics. In one segment, a group of Indians are shown emerging from their mountain refuge after five years in hiding. It would have been fascinating to have shown them in their hide-out, but all we get is a line of people moving through the forest.

``Under the Gun'' has a disturbing story of democracy as yet unattained. But it is a filmed ultimatum rather than a balanced report on a nation in transition.

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