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Coup Attempt Thwarted In Guatemala

May 9, 1989

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ The civilian government of President Vinicio Cerezo said it thwarted a coup attempt today by air force officers and soldiers.

Government spokesman Carlos Anleu said troops loyal to Cerezo arrested an undetermined number of air force personnel who participated in the coup attempt, which lasted about two hours.

″Everything is under control,″ Anleu said. He said the coup was put down with no shots fired.

The attempt was staged by a tactical unit of the air force based south of Guatemala City in a military section of the international airport, Anleu said, and was led by retired military officers. He did not identify them.

The coup attempt was stopped when soldiers loyal to the government entered the city in tanks and helicopters, the spokesman said.

About 6:30 a.m. troops and soldiers, many wearing the blue handerkerchiefs that are a sign of loyalists, surrounded the home of the defense minister, Gen. Alejandro Gramajo. Military planes and helicopters flew overhead and tanks were parked strategically nearby.

In May 1988, a military coup attempt failed when Gramajo refused to join it and backed the civilian government.

By 8:30 a.m., most of the troops had returned to their barracks and the aircraft returned to their bases. Morning rush-hour activity had returned to normal in the capital. Radio stations played military music during the attempt, then returned to normal programming.

In Washington, a State Department official said reports from the U.S. Embassy and from Guatemalans also indicated the coup attempt was unsuccessful. The official said the coup attempt may have been aimed not at Cerezo, whose whereabouts were unknown, but at Granajo or other cabinet ministers.

Cerezo took office in January 1986, heading the first elected civilian administration in 16 years. He had been under attack from the right wing for opening talks with the leftist insurgency, the Revolutionary Union, which has been conducting a guerrilla war for 30 years.

During the attempted coup by army officers on May 11, 1988, two columns of troops marched on the capital to seize power. But their attempt was quashed without a shot being fired. Six officers were arrested.

On April 16, Cerezo blamed rightist paramilitary groups for a growing wave of violence and said they threatened the nation’s democracy. ″Democracy is being put in danger by the recklessness of some groups and people who constantly violate the law,″ he said in a nationally broadcast address.

The president blamed the right-wing groups for the death of Irma Esquivel de Lara, 37, a criminal court judge who was gunned down on a street in the capital earlier in April.

″There exist some groups traditionally of the extreme right that aren’t happy with democracy. They don’t like it that we are satisfied with a democratic government,″ Cerezo said at the time.

Cerezo, 46, a Christian Democrat, is due to leave office in 1991.

The Central American nation of 8.5 million people, about the size of Tennessee, is bounded on the north and west by Mexico, the south by the Pacific Ocean and the east by El Salvador, Honduras and Belize.

Guatemala never has sustained a modern democratic govenment. It is widely agreed that civilian authority exists because of military consent and supervision.

Guatemala was widely shunned by the international community while the country was under the military rulers of the early 1980s. The armed forces and death squads linked to the military were blamed for killing tens of thousands of people. The army denied the charges.

Thousands of Indians were killed or driven into the hills. More than half the population is made up of Indians who speak two dozen Mayan dialects.

Former President Carter cut off U.S. aid to the country, but non-military aid was restored under the Reagan administration.

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