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Dictator on a comeback in Guatemala

December 13, 2002 | Page 6

Dear Socialist Worker,

Beginning in 1954 with a coup backed by the U.S. and carried out by the CIA, Guatemala became the scene of horrible human rights violations and brutal dictatorships.

During the miserable years that followed, the worst by far were 1982 and 1983. During this time, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt was in power as a result of a military coup and, with the support of the U.S., slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans. Of the victims, most were indigenous people of the highlands. Countless others were tortured and raped.

This attempt at genocide had support from the Reagan administration and was carried out in the name of fighting communist guerrillas. Reagan praised Rios Montt, describing him as "dedicated to democracy." However, while Reagan was aiding "democracy," the people of the highlands of Guatemala were living a nightmare. Massacres took place daily in these towns.

In 1983, Rios Montt was overthrown by Gen. Mejia Victores. In 1985, an amendment to the constitution said that no one who has ever gained power as a result of a military coup in the past could run for the presidency.

The years following saw political instability as usual. But in 1996, Alvaro Arzu was elected president and signed the 1996 Peace Accord between the army and guerrillas, ending 36 years of civil war.

Unfortunately, in the 1999 election, Alfonso Portillo of the Guatemala Republican Front (FRG), the right-wing party of Rios Montt, was elected president. Even worse, Rios Montt became president of Congress when the FRG won a majority of the seats. The new government is threatening to change the constitution, and Rios Montt is already buying votes in hopes of running for the presidency in November 2003.

Many of the people who will vote in the election aren't aware of the atrocities that took place in the highlands. We must raise awareness about this situation and build a movement across the world against thugs such as Rios Montt.

Jean Howell, Davis, Calif.

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