San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemala Celebrates Decade of ‘Peace’

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalans on Dec. 29 commemorated the 10th anniversary of the peace accords between the government and leftist guerrillas, although the causes that sparked the 1960-1996 civil war – such as violence and poverty – are still prevalent in this northernmost Central American nation.

“To speak of peace the way things are is to ridicule the people, because every day 15 dead bodies appear and poverty affects 70% of the population,” said former guerrilla commander Pablo Monsanto, a signatory of the 1996 peace accords.

Monsanto added: “I believe the balance of these 10 years is absolutely negative. Guatemala is worse off now than it was during the fighting because violence has increased, health is badly cared for and justice is not done.”

Gen. Otto Perez, who signed the accords as the army’s representative, claims there has been progress on a social level, in terms of freedom of expression and association, and in the dismantling of structures that began the civil war. However, he agreed with Monsanto that crime and violence are worse now than during the war, while injustice, inequality and poverty continue to afflict Guatemalans.

According to official statistics, violence claimed 6,034 lives in 2006, or an average of 15 every day.

Guatemalan Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada said during a service at the capital’s Roman Catholic cathedral, attended by President Oscar Berger, that the causes of the conflict still exist.

“To avoid any extremism and to consolidate a true peace, nothing can be better than restoring dignity to those suffering marginalization, contempt and poverty,” the prelate said.

At a subsequent event in the National Palace of Culture, Berger said that during the past 10 years Guatemala has made significant strides in some respects such as in consolidating its democracy, fighting racism and discrimination, and stimulating open participation in politics.

Nonetheless, he admitted that great challenges still lie ahead, such as building a more just and tolerant society without exclusions and with a true culture of peace.

Berger’s address was briefly interrupted by a group of young people who stood up and shouted slogans including “murderous army” and “with hunger, there’s no peace” before leaving the hall.

The celebration of the 10th anniversary of signing the peace accord that put an end to a war that left some 200,000 dead began early morning Dec. 29 with a Maya ceremony led by indigenous spiritual guides.

The Maya were among those most brutalized during the country’s civil war.


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