TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT (L)
TITLE=GUATEMALA MILITARY REFORM
INTRO: The new president of Guatemala, Alfonso
Portillo, has taken an unprecedented step to reform
his nation's military, in effect, removing all the
army's generals. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from our
TEXT: In a bold move announced on Tuesday, President
Portillo named Colonel Juan de Dios Estrada Velasquez
as defense minister. Under the rules of rank used by
the military, all 20 army generals must now either
resign or take a leave of absence, since they cannot
outrank their commander. The new Defense Minister is
a moderate officer who participated in the peace talks
with leftist guerrillas that resulted in a peace
agreement in 1996. That brought to an end a 30-year
war that left some 200 thousand people dead. A United
Nations-sponsored truth commission later revealed that
the military had been responsible for 93 percent of
the human rights abuses that occurred during the war.
President Portillo said the appointment of Colonel
Estrada is only temporary as he expects to name a
civilian defense minister once the Congress approves a
military reform package. Human Rights Activist Frank
La Rue, speaking to VOA by telephone from his home in
Guatemala City, credits President Portillo with what
he calls "a bold and brave move."
/// LA RUE ACT ///
I think it is a very good sign, the purpose of
which is not very clear yet. It is a reform of
the military but we do not know in what
direction. The leadership, the hierarchy,
effectively had been controlled by the past
administration, so it was, in a way, absolutely
necessary for him (Portillo) and the new
leadership coming in to push the hierarchy out.
So, it is a bold political move, but no one
knows exactly what the end of it will be.
/// END ACT ///
One factor that Mr. La Rue says provides some concern
is the role of former General Efrain Rios Montt, the
leader of Mr. Portillo's political party, the
Guatemalan Republican Front, known as the F-R-G.
Human Rights groups accuse General Rios Montt of
massive abuses of civilians during his dictatorship in
1982 and 1983. The former general is now president of
the new Congress and will oversee the approval of
military reforms proposed by President Portillo. The
F-R-G has a majority in the new Congress.
The 48-year-old Mr. Portillo, who assumed the
presidency last Friday, was elected last month with
overwhelming support from some of the poorest sectors
of Guatemalan society. He has promised to reform not
only the military but the country's socioeconomic
structure, which he says gives too much power to a
small group of rich people at the expense of the poor.
18-Jan-2000 11:02 AM EDT (18-Jan-2000 1602 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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