Guatemala 1996

By | June 6, 2022

According to Homosociety, the agreement signed on December 29, 1996 in Guatemala by President AE Arzú Irigoyen and the guerrilla commanders formally put an end to a 36- year civil war, which resulted in 150,000 deaths, over 40,000 ‘disappearances’ and one million refugees and internal refugees. Achieving complete national reconciliation, however, still seemed a distant goal, as was demonstrated in April 1998 from the murder of J. Gerardi, auxiliary bishop of the capital, killed after having presented a report in which he indicated in the armed forces and right-wing paramilitary groups the main perpetrators of the atrocities committed in the country during the period of the civil war.

In office since January 1991, the president J. Serrano Elías, of the moderate Movimiento para Acción y Solidaridad (MAS), started a difficult dialogue with the guerrillas of the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG), hampered by resistance from some sectors of the army and far-right paramilitary formations. The latter continued to be protagonists of numerous violations of human rights against the civilian population, especially the Indian population of the countryside, suspected of complicity with the guerrillas. Without a solid parliamentary majority, contested by the population for the restrictive economic policy of its government and for the episodes of corruption in which some ministers were involved, in May 1993Serrano dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court and suspended the Constitution, arguing that widespread corruption among deputies and judges prevented him from governing. Popular protests, organized above all by the Catholic Church, and the immediate international condemnation of the coup (Japan, the United States and the European Community immediately interrupted the aid programs to Guatemala), however, led to the removal of the president by the armed forces, intervened for the first time in the history of the country to guarantee the constitutional order. In June 1993 the Congress elected in place of Serrano, and until the expiry of his mandate (January 1996), the independent R. de León Carpio, a well-known activist for the defense of human rights, who gave life to a national unity executive.

In January 1994 a referendum approved a series of constitutional amendments aimed at fighting corruption (among other things, were lowered to four years the presidential term and that of deputies, whose number was reduced to 80) and in August 1994 it elections were held for a new Congress. Characterized like all previous consultations by very low popular participation, as well as by the exclusive presence of conservative or moderate parties, the elections saw the victory of a far-right formation, the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG), founded by General E. Rios Montt, author of the coup d’etat of March 1982 and responsible for a harsh repression. Despite the limited progress made by the executive to contain abuses in the field of human rights, and the frequent interruptions, the peace negotiations between representatives of the government and the URNG continued, favoring a partial improvement of the internal situation. Proof of this was the participation, for the first time in over 40 years, of a left-wing group (the Frente Democrático Nueva Guatemala) in the general elections of November 1995, on the occasion of which the URNG proclaimed a two-week unilateral ceasefire, inviting citizens to go and vote.

The legislative consultations saw the victory of the conservative Partido de Avanzada Nacional (PAN), whose candidate, Arzú Irigoyen, in January 1996 was elected to the presidency of the Republic, prevailing in the ballot over the FRG candidate. The new administration dismissed numerous army officers, responsible for serious human rights violations, and dozens of corrupt members of the police force, giving further impetus to negotiations with the guerrillas, with whom an agreement was reached in March 1996 to the ceasefire. Thanks also to the mediation of the UN (present in Guatemala with its own mission since September 1994), on 29 December 1996 the government and the URNG signed a peace agreement which included, among other things, the implementation of constitutional reforms to modernize and democratize the structures of the state, an increase in social spending and a downsizing of those for security, interventions to facilitate the return to civil life of demobilized guerrillas and the approval of a law of national reconciliation and amnesty for less serious crimes committed during the civil war.

Despite the support of the international community, which intervened in January 1997 with a large loan to facilitate the implementation of the peace agreements, the internal situation remained difficult; in particular, the attempt to return hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons to their regions of origin dramatically re- posed the problem of the serious imbalances existing in the distribution of land ownership (less than 3 % of the population owns 70 % of the arable land) and of the secular discrimination against the Indios, who represent the majority of the population.

The transformation, in December 1998, of the URNG into a political party, also in anticipation of the elections expected at the end of 1999, represented a further step in the process of democratization of the civil and political life of the country. In a climate of great uncertainty, the presidential elections in November 1999 took place, which were to sanction the country’s exit from the civil war. The populist A. Portillo, candidate of the FRG, got just over 47 % of the votes, while O. Berger, candidate of the PAN, the ruling party, won about 31 % of the votes. In December the second round was won by A. Portillo.

Guatemala 1996