What Guatemala's new president wants from the US
Former Gen. Otto Perez Molina, who will be inaugurated as Guatemala's president today, plans to push for renewed US military aid, raising concerns among critics of his legacy from Guatemala's civil war.
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A 1995 US press report revealed that although overt US military aid to Guatemala was halted in the early 1990s, millions of dollars in CIA funding continued to enter the country and support Guatemalan armed forces during the next five years, according to the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The US has approved limited aid over the years for training Guatemala’s military response team for natural disasters.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, Mexican drug traffickers have taken over regions of Guatemala bordering Mexico, and Perez is says he is seeking military equipment such as helicopters and training to battle the drug trade which is increasingly carving routes through Central America.
But whether the US will entertain the request is unclear. Some believe the US is taking a “wait-and-see” approach, given Perez's military past. President Obama took two weeks to congratulate Perez on his election victory last fall, a decision some read as a “chilly sign," reports the Associated Press.
Guatemala must meet a number of US stipulations in order for US defense funding to resume, such as guaranteeing that the military is “respecting internationally recognized human rights.” Several former Guatemalan presidents have attempted to get the US to resume defense aid, including outgoing leader Alvaro Colom, who met with the US to outline six conditions that must be met before the partial resumption of US military aid would be considered, reports Prensa Libre (Spanish).
Greater military transparency is among the conditions, reports Insight Crime, an organization that conducts research and analysis on organized crime in Latin America.
“The condition which might prove the most difficult for Perez's government requires the release of all military documents related to Guatemala's civil war,” reports Insight. “There is little chance that Perez will prove willing to do so, considering his level of support from the military. He has also faced accusations of committing human rights violations during the conflict.”
Other steps include renewed support for a United Nations anticorruption team, CICIG, which has not always received full cooperation from the Guatemalan government in the past, as well as reforming the weak justice system. A UN-sponsored truth commission following the civil war found that state forces and paramilitary groups were responsible for the majority of the conflict’s killings. Few of those responsible, however, have been tried and brought to justice, reports the AP.
In December, Perez told the leading Guatemalan newspaper, Prensa Libre, that the issues surrounding US military funding have become exaggerated. “This has become more of a myth than anything else. We have not relied on the US for weapons these last 30 years, and it seems that in this country many have realized that the Guatemalan Army has changed a lot in every way,” he said.
If the US government does not provide the assistance needed by Guatemala to improve its law enforcement efforts, the Guatemalan government will seek military aid from other countries, a Perez adviser told the AP. “This may be a subtle reference to the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is set to attend Perez's swearing in ceremony,” reports Insight.