Democracy Experiment Sours For the Military
Defense chief is target of officers disillusioned by weak government, high-level corruption. GUATEMALAN ARMY UNREST
THREE weeks after a second failed military rebellion in less than a year, Guatemala's experiment in democracy is being strained by an armed forces power struggle. The attempted coup against Defense Minister H'ector Gramajo Morales on May 9 has left the embattled general walking a political tightrope to prevent another uprising.Skip to next paragraph
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On the one hand, General Gramajo is playing tough, ordering the Army tribunal to prosecute 23 rebellious officers. On the other, he and President Vinicio Cerezo Ar'evalo are trying to tread softly enough to quiet Army unrest.
They have declined to name the civilians involved. And to keep other disgruntled officers from rebelling, Gramajo has promised to shake up the top military commands at the end of next month.
Despite the measured response, Gramajo is unable - or unwilling - to eradicate a prime root of discontent - himself.
``The principal aim of the coup attempt was not so much to overthrow the constitutional government, but to remove Gramajo,'' a European diplomat says.
``A number of officers perceived Gramajo as being too closely connected to the [ruling] Christian Democrats, as conniving with government corruption, and as trying to assure the continuance of [the Christian Democrats'] power through the elections,'' in 1990, the diplomat adds. ``So even though the high command ... successfully repressed the uprising, the root cause is still there.''
For the past three years, Gramajo has been the glue holding together Guatemala's fragile transition from military to civilian rule.
An avid proponent of democracy and the rule of law, the United States-trained general has spearheaded the effort to improve Guatemala's image after three decades of repressive military rule. He has had a knack for wooing Washington legislators concerned about Guatemala's dark history of human-rights abuses. After last year's coup attempt, for instance, he was able to turn the country's internal vulnerability into $2 million in supplemental US military aid.
Gramajo, who is considered the most powerful man in Guatemala, has staunchly backed President Cerezo and his moderate but ineffective Christian Democrats. Even today, as everyone from the Roman Catholic Church to the conservative private sector abandons the ruling party, Gramajo has made the Army into Mr. Cerezo's last pillar of support.
But the pillar is crumbling.
According to well-placed military sources here, many younger conservative officers - not just those involved in the uprising - say Gramajo has betrayed the armed forces for a corrupt political experiment intent on giving space to leftist groups and power to the Christian Democrats.
On the morning of the coup attempt, in fact, troops loyal to Gramajo found a proclamation on the person of coup leader Col. C'esar Quinteros Alvarado. Dated April 5, the unsigned document called for a rebellion for one principal reason: ``The authorities have falsified and corrupted the country's democratization process by constructing the basis to install the dictatorship of ... the Christian Democratic Party.''
Some of Gramajo's detractors are simply disillusioned with democracy.