Guatemala's leader-elect: tough but fair pragmatist?

He is known as a tough Army disciplinarian. But Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, the disputed winner in Guatemala's presidential balloting, also has a reputation for fairness.

Moreover, he apparently is more pragmatic than the incumbent, Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia. And there is the hunch among those who know him that a Guevara presidency might prove less repressive.

''Politics,'' General Guevara says, ''is based on doing what is possible and correct, not on what you might want to do or in skirting that which is moral.''

In his infrequent interviews and his more frequent public appearances, however, he skirts criticism of military men who have preceded him in the Guatemalan presidency.

Human rights activists are less guarded; they contend that recent rightist governments, including the one in which General Guevara served as defense minister, have been as responsible as the leftist guerrillas for innumerable murders and civilian deaths -- if not more so.

General Guevara was not the incumbent government's first choice for the presidency. Some high Army officers sought a civilian candidate in hopes that this would take the onus off the much-criticized years of military rule throughout the 1970s. But the Army high command wanted to put up another military man and General Guevara emerged as a compromise choice.

As candidate of the three-party ruling coalition, he was expected to win the four-candidate presidential race March 7.

But his victory has been tarnished by charges of fraud, coming particularly from second- and third-place candidates Mario Sandoval Alarcon, a far rightist, and Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, a moderate.

Nonetheless, it is a virtual certainty that General Guevara will take the blue and white sash of the Guatemalan presidency. And most of those who know him suggest that his reputed fairness will dominate his actions. Whether he can implant that attitude, however, on some of the Army commanders who have been charged with brutality and repressive tactics against the Guatemalan citizenry remains to be seen.

General Guevara lacks political or governmental experience. Although he served a brief few months as chief of staff of the Guatemalan armed forces and then a year's stint as defense minister, most of his career has been spent out of Guatemala City as a troop commander in the field. He commanded six different Army bases in the late 1960s and through most of the 1970s.

His period as defense minister, from late 1979 to early 1981, was marked by increasing leftist guerrilla activity. At the time, he spoke of offering the guerrillas an amnesty if they would lay down their arms. He also offered to set up a dialogue with the guerrillas ''to see what we both can mutually learn.''

He made similar offers during the presidential campaign, saying he would again make his amnesty offer to the guerrillas. ''If they don't accept,'' he said, '' we will have no recourse but to pursue the war to their (the guerrillas') elimination.''

That remark has worried many human-rights advocates who see little difference between General Guevara and President Lucas Garcia. But Guevara associates say this ignores the general's genuine interest in setting up such a dialogue with the guerrillas.

The general occasionally talks of the town, La Democracia, where he was born in 1925. ''How could anyone born in a town with that name fail to believe in democracy?'' he asks.

The father of four children, General Guevara has normally spent at least one day a week with his family. He may find that harder to do as president of a nation caught up in civil conflict.

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