If there is a lesson to be learned from the relationship of the United States with El Salvador, it is how not to conduct foreign policy in a strife-ridden Central American nation. This lesson should be applied by the US to future dealings with Guatemala, a nation on the edge of civil war.
All of Central America is struggling to come to terms with a rapidly changing world. The economies of these countries are in shambles. Their rate of growth is down drastically from the rapid growth most of the region experienced in the '60 s and early '70s, and the prospects for the future are dim.
US policy in El Salvador has proved that military assistance does not address the basic problem of underdevelopment that exists throughout Central America.
The situation in Guatemala is remarkably similar. Guatemala has been struggling internally for over 20 years. Since 1954, with the overthrow of the popularly elected government of Jacobo Arbenz by the Guatemalan Army and the CIA , Guatemala has been controlled by the oligarchy and the Army. This ruling coalition has done little to reverse Guatemala's rampant poverty. Eighty-one percent of the children under the age of five are malnourished. Unemployment is excessively high, and the conditions for Guatemala's poor have been steadily deteriorating.
But it was the success of the Nicaraguan revolution, the open struggle in El Salvador, and the overwhelming repression of the recently deposed Lucas-Garcia government that brought the situation in Guatemala to a boiling point.
On March 23, officers in the Guatemalan Army staged a coup and placed a former general and born-again Christian, Efrain Rios-Montt, at the head of the new junta. Rios-Montt subsequently consolidated his power, and proclaimed himself President. He also dismissed the other members of the junta.
Since the coup, the Reagan administration has indicated that it wants to sell military equipment and supply military assistance to the new Guatemalan regime. Currently the US does not provide military aid or sell military equipment to Guatemala because of its poor human rights record.
Now is not the time to resume sending aid to Guatemala. The violence there is increasing. Although the atmosphere in urban centers has become less tense, the overall level of killing, particularly in the countryside, has not abated.