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Guatemala's Democracy

WITH Guatemala's week-and-a-half-old political crisis far from settled, the best thing the international community can do to support the restoration of constitutional rule is to keep up its economic pressure.

That pressure, plus increasingly broad public demands to restore democracy, led to Wednesday's counter-coup against President Jorge Serrano Elias, who assumed near-dictatorial powers on May 25. Apparently taking a page from Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's handbook on governing in times of "crisis," Serrano last week suspended constitutional government, dissolved the Supreme Court and Congress, censored the press, restricted freedom of assembly, and allowed arrests without warrants. All this to deal

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with what he termed government corruption and drug trafficking.

Another explanation: Through Mr. Serrano, the military was expressing its displeasure at rising popular unrest focused on the government's economic austerity program.

In response to the move, Japan announced June 1 that it was restricting future aid to Guatemala to emergency and humanitarian aid. From 1987 to 1991, Tokyo provided Guatemala with $191.3 million in assistance. European governments have suspended another $100 million. The United States froze much of a $50 million aid package and has threatened to withdraw Guatemala's status under the Generalized System of Preferences. This could affect up to one-third (or $160 million worth) of the country's exports, whic h go to the US.

The true test of the country's seven-year-old democracy lies in dealing with its problems via its democratic institutions, rather than dissolving them. Unfortunately, Serrano's removal fell just as short of that test as did his May 25 move, strongly indicating that the military is still in control. At the behest of the business community, which also consulted a number of political and social leaders, the Army withdrew support for Serrano, leading to his downfall. It has since thrown its support to Vice P resident Gustavo Espina Salguero. Even Guatamela's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu said that, in Serrano's removal, "It is completely clear that this is a coup dtat against the people."

Continued economic sanctions should help focus the Guatemalan government's attention on restoring democracy.

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