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05 April 2004

U.S.-Backed Mission Hails Guatemala's Plan to Cut Military

Guatemala to reduce army, military budget by about half

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A U.S.-supported international mission in Guatemala has hailed the Central American nation's decision to cut the present size of its army and military budget by about one-half.

The United Nations Mission in Guatemala, known by the acronym MINUGUA, called the cut the "most significant change" for the Guatemalan army in decades. MINUGUA also said the cut is "fully in keeping" with peace accords signed in Guatemala in December 1996 to end the last and longest of Central America's civil conflicts, costing more than 100,000 lives. MINUGUA was created to oversee that 1996 peace agreement.

MINUGUA said in an April 2 statement that the plan reflects changes in Guatemala's situation in recent years -- nationally, the end of the internal conflict; globally, the increase in threats posed by terrorism and drug trafficking -- that require an "adapted military response." The cut, announced by Guatemalan President Oscar Berger on April 1, will also serve to reduce Guatemala's army to a size comparable to those of other Central American nations, MINUGUA said.

Guatemalan officials were quoted as saying the cut will reduce the country's army from its current level of 27,000 soldiers to 15,500 in the next two months. News reports said El Salvador's army numbers 16,000 soldiers, Nicaragua's 14,500 soldiers, and Honduras' army 12,000 soldiers. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948, and Panama did the same in 1994. Guatemala's military budget will be cut from a reported $118.7 million in 2004 to $97.5 million.

The U.N. mission said the reduction in Guatemala's military budget will also allow funds to be made available for priority social needs in education, health care, and public security.

The U.S. State Department says the United States, as a member of the "Friends of Guatemala" group of nations, played an important role in the U.N.-moderated peace accords in that country. The State Department said the United States strongly supports the six substantive and three procedural accords, which -- along with the signing of the 1996 final peace accord -- form the blueprint for political, economic, and social change in Guatemala.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides funding to strengthen Guatemala's democratic institutions and to promote human rights, says the 1996 Guatemalan peace agreements called for major social-sector investments to reach segments of the population never before adequately served, and required full participation of indigenous people in local and national decision-making.

USAID funding to Guatemala is also used to support national reconciliation within the country, literacy and vocational training, credit and micro-enterprise programs, and modernization of state institutions.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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