Guatemalan Peace Prospects

The article ``Guatemala's Civil Defense Patrol Under Fire for Rights Violations,'' May 13, highlights a critical obstacle to peace in that country - the ability of the armed forces and its civilian security apparatus to violate human rights with impunity. Because of its deep social divisions, relentless political violence, and the lack of accountability of the armed forces, any process for peace in Guatemala will be fragile. At the same time, however, the author dismisses the significance of the April peace agreements signed in Mexico, which represent the first time representatives of the Guatemalan government and leaders of the 30-year insurgency held direct talks in order to establish a process for peace and have agreed to subsequent talks.

That five ranking members of the Guatemalan armed forces signed the Mexico agreement with the general command of the revolutionary movement indicated an unprecedented recognition from both sides that the country needs peace. Each party involved acknowledged that creating a viable political and economic model in Guatemala requires democratization, strengthening civil authority over the military, and establishing a new role for the country's armed forces.

Another milestone crossed by the Mexico agreement regards the content of the upcoming discussions. The agreement commits to a discussion of the usually taboo subject of land ownership. In this traditional agrarian-based economy, insufficient access to land has led to widespread poverty - the origin and fuel of Guatemala's civil war.

Because it raises such confrontational issues as the land situation, the role of the military in society, and the participation of the guerrillas in the political arena, the Mexico agreement will be challenged by sectors within the military and by the landed oligarchy. Thus, international recognition and support for Guatemala's dialogue will be critical for its success.

Michael Willis, Washington, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala

More to Gulf war than security of oil supply Regarding the article ``Traveling by Train Is the Free Way to Go,'' May 16: The author seems to imply that the sole reason for the United States's military involvement in the recent Gulf war was to secure oil sources.

The reasons for our commitment were both concrete and philosophical: standing against the type of aggression we have long claimed to oppose, honoring verbal if not written commitments to aid friendly governments, and demonstrating our ability to project power into distant theaters of conflict.

I was there. I helped with the contingency plans on which our deployment was based, and was deployed with the first US army elements. Also, I am a trained historian and a Middle East specialist. It is this background that makes it impossible for me to credit those who say that we fought only to protect access to oil.

Gary R. Hobin, Atlanta, Ga.

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