Guatemala resists US pressure to toe line
The United States is putting increasing pressure on Guatemala to back its policy toward Nicaragua, but Guatemala is resisting, sources say. The US has offered President-elect Marco Vinicio Cerezo Ar'evalo much-needed aid if he will take a stand against Nicaragua's ruling Sandinistas and eventually let Guatemala be used as a base for supplying US-backed Nicaraguan rebels, the sources say.
In recent months Honduras has become less willing to cooperate with the US in getting supplies to the rebels, say sources close to the situation. The US, therefore, sees Guatemala as a second base for supplies.
For the past few years, Guatemala has maintained relatively friendly relations with the Sandinistas. Unlike Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, Guatemala has refused to rally to the US policy of trying to overthrow or seriously alter the nature of the Sandinista government.
Since his election in early December, Mr. Cerezo has shown every sign of wanting to continue that policy of relative neutrality and autonomy from the US. Before traveling to Washington in mid-December, Cerezo went to Central America where among other countries he visited Nicaragua and met with President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. As a further sign of his independent stance, Cerezo was accompanied on his visit by Mario Solorzano, the head of the moderately left-wing Guatemalan Social Democratic Party.
Cerezo's public statements in the US reflected his desire for a more independent stance. More important, he said that although his country needed economic assistance, it did not want US military aid.
Cerezo's desire for an independent foreign policy which avoided confrontation with Nicaragua -- and the policy's architect, Foreign Minister Fernando Andrade D'iaz-Dur'an -- had the support of a majority of the Army, a Western diplomat says.
``The Guatemalan Army is, as a whole, very skeptical of the US Central American policy,'' the diplomat says. ``They believe that Nicaragua is a US problem and not a Guatemalan one. They still remember the Bay of Pigs, and think that if Guatemala followed the US's anti-Sandinista line it would end up being left in the lurch.''
If Cerezo accepted US aid, his main problem could be that his country's financial crisis would make him dependent on that aid. The more conservative, militantly anti-Sandinista officials in Washington are willing to use the US's financial leverage to force Cerezo to give in. Sources close to Cerezo say he will continue to resist the pressure. He has said several times publicly that he would rather be in exile in Miami than be a puppet President.
The US cut off all aid to Guatemala in 1977 because of its human rights record. Last year, the US resumed a small amount of aid -- $300,000 for military training.
For fiscal year 1986, the Reagan administration requested $77 million in economic aid and about $10.3 million in military aid. But Cerezo says he will not decide on whether he wants the aid until he assumes office in January.
Another sign of Cerezo's desire for an independent policy is that he may keep Mr. Andrade as foreign minister, at least for the next six months, instead of naming Ren'e de Leon Schlotter, a Christian Democrat conservative foreign affairs expert.
Some of Cerezo's advisers hope he will be able to escape US pressure by obtaining Western European money. But West European diplomats in the region doubt that Cerezo will be able to get substantial sums of money from Europe.
Another strategy of Cerezo's, which would enable him to pursue a more independent policy, would be the use of his leverage in the US Congress, sources close to Cerezo say. Right now, as one such source put it, ``Congress loves him.''
These sources say that even if the Reagan administration tries to pressure Cerezo by cutting off funds, Cerezo's support in Congress is such that he will get money anyway. They say that the Reagan administration is too committed to democracy in Guatemala to be able to lower drastically needed aid to that country.
Other analysts here are skeptical about Cerezo's long-term ability to resist US pressure, given Guatemala's dire financial straits.
For the more hawkish groups in Washington, Guatemala has a key role to play in the fight against Nicaragua. In 1984, they had the idea that an invasion of Nicaragua could be carried out by anti-Sandinista rebels, known as ``contras,'' supported by the combined armies of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and by US logistical support.
The first step for such an invasion would have been the revival of a joint Central American defense federation called CONDECA. But the revival fell through when Guatemala -- which has the strongest army in the region -- refused to join.