President Cerezo to Seek Military Aid in Washington
May. 12, 1987
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ President Vinicio Cerezo, who asked the United States to ferry troops to a remote northern area because his army is short of transportation, says increased military aid is among subjects he wants to discuss when he visits Washington.
Cerezo told reporters he also plans to bring up the Central American situation, foreign debt and economic aid when he meets President Reagan on Wednesday.
The Guatemalan leader, who was speaking last week, said he was seeking ''small quantities'' of non-lethal military aid, but added: ''In the Central American area, to talk about military aid of $5 million to $10 million is practically a joke. It hardly goes beyond that. That is to say, it is something essential for maintaining relations.''
The United States has approved $2 million in military aid in fiscal 1987 for Guatemala, Central America's most populous country with 7.9 million people. By contrast, $116.5 million in military aid is budgeted already this year for the U.S.-supported government in neighboring El Salvador.
In 1977, the military leaders then ruling Guatemala forfeited U.S. military aid rather than agree to improve human rights conditions. Much of the country's other foreign aid was lost as well because of its poor human rights record.
Since taking office Jan. 14, 1986, as the country's first civilian president in 16 years, Cerezo has been working to restore assistance. U.S. military aid of about $4.5 million was sent last year, the first since the cutoff.
The United States also is providing $132 million in economic aid this year.
In the past few years Guatemala has complained of a severe shortage of parts for helicopters and other equipment. Last week, U.S. C-47 Chinook helicopters and their American crews moved 300 to 350 Guatemalan troops from Guatemala City to Playa Grande, about 200 miles north of the capital, on a training maneuver.
Cerezo said it was an ''isolated occurrence'' due to a shortage of transportation, and would not be repeated soon.
Cerezo follows what he calls a policy of ''active neutrality'' in Central American conflicts. He has kept Guatemala at a distance from U.S. policy aimed at containing Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government, unlike the staunch U.S. allies in the region - El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica.
He has better relations with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega than do the other countries, and visited Nicaragua's capital, Managua, on March 29.
Cerezo, a Christian Democrat, is believed to be the first Guatemalan president to make an official visit the United States. Although he has traveled to the United States, the visits were not official and he did not meet with Reagan.
Critics here charge Cerezo is more concerned about his international image than about domestic problems.
The problems include a persistent strike by at least 60,000 public employees that has shut down telegraph and mail services, limited government hospitals to attending emergencies, closed tax collection offices and suspended the national lottery.
Government officials said 30 percent of public employees were on strike, while unions claimed 65 percent. The workers, who want salary increases, complain that price increases outpace wages even though annual inflation has dropped to an estimated 10 to 17 percent from 40 percent in 1986.
Unemployment and underemployment, or people without fulltime jobs, is officially placed at 40 percent.
While the transition to democracy under Cerezo has opened the way for more union organization and other rights, the long practice of killings by the extreme left and right has not ended.
Citizens continue to cite cases of relatives who are abducted by men they say are from security forces, then are found dead or simply never seen again.
''The violence in 1986 was nothing compared with 1987,'' said Nineth de Garcia, president of the Mutual Support Group for relatives of the disappeared.
Cerezo formed a commission in April to investigate such disappearances, but so far it has not met or taken any action.
The military still holds many of the cards.
''The formal power in in the hands of the civilians. Now we have to wait, while, little by little, the real power is transferred to civilian hands,'' said Jorge Serrano, a former government official who was a minor-party presidential candidate in 1986 elections and is forming a new political party.