The Multinational Monitor



Bullets and Beans

by Nancy Peckenham

Last November, a commission appointed by the U. S. State Department to review foreign aid policies and headed by former Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, made a strong plea that foreign aid be more closely tied to military and strategic considerations. Though not a novel idea-combining security needs with foreign assistance has been U. S. practice for decades-such policies have become especially clear since the advent of the Reagan Administration.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Central America, where millions of dollars in U. S. development funds are being used in the wars against guerrilla movements in El Salvador and Guatemala. As in Vietnam during the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. is helping to finance civic action programs that are a crucial element of each country's counterinsurgency program.

While "Operation Goodwill" in El Salvador's San Vincente province faces many obstacles to its successful implementation, in Guatemala the civic action component of the counterinsurgency war has attained greater results.

But in an unusual twist,' Congressional restrictions on military and economic assistance to Guatemala have forced Israel to play an increasingly active role as surrogate for the United States, not only in providing arms but now, it appears, in providing technical assistance in the civic aspects of the counterinsurgency war.

Guatemala is a country whose military rulers are divided over many issues, including how to respond to the U.S.'s urging to take a more active role in military maneuvers throughout Central America. But it appears to have reached consensus on one crucial program: the pacification of Guatemala's rural population. In late December 1983, General Mejia Victores, the country's new chief of state, emphasized the army's determination to continue the program initiated by his predecessor General Efrain Rios Montt. The program has given the army an edge, at least temporarily, in its war against the guerrillas.

Since mid-1982, the army has been refining a complex reorganization of civilian life in the countryside as part of this pacification program. In their reorganization, the military has introduced model villages (or "strategic hamlets" as they were known in Vietnam) and civil patrols, both hallmarks of counterinsurgency theory as taught by U.S. military trainers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In model villages, the military or military-apppointed commissioners control everything from latrine installation to food distribution, and have created a structure parallel to civilian administration, which is left essentially powerless. In civil patrols, over 700,000 men, a tenth of Guatemala's population, have been mobilized under military orders to protect their villages from guerrilla incursions. Even family structures are affected as decisions to work in the fields or go to the market are affected by one's obligation to be on patrol.

The primary government office responsible for the civic action component of the pacification campaign is the Committee of National Reconstruction, or CRN. First created after a devastating earthquake in 1976, the military-run CRN was given new life in 1982, after Rios Montt came to power in a coup in March. The U.S. support for CRN projects reflects the significance it attaches to pacification objectives of development assistance. In 1982-1983, over one-third of CRN's $12 million budget came from the U.S. Agency for International Development-$4.5 million-through direct grants or channeled through private voluntary organizations.

The CRN began planning the reorganization of rural life in 1982, not long after General Efrain Rios Montt came to power. Rios Montt, an idiosyncratic ruler who approved widespread massacres by his army while promoting assistance to the survivors of these offensives, enacted a two-fold pacification program called "Bullets and Beans," based on these seemingly contradictory approaches. Air Force Colonel Eduardo Wohlers was assigned to the CRN to develop, in coordination with then-CRN director General Fuentes Corado, the "beans" component of the program. In August 1982, the Program of Assistance to Areas in Conflict, went into operation. These programs-and the violent crusade against guerrillas-has continued under Rios Montt's successor, General Mejia Victores, who seized power in an August 1983 military coup.

After the first year's operation, the pacification program's team of technicians administered hundreds of projects in rural areas, from house construction and road building to water systems and landing fields. These projects, most of which provided emergency relief to people who had been displaced from their homes by the army offensive and then rounded up by the military from their mountain hiding places, are intrinsic to the national counterinsurgency program. On a secondary level that incorporates long-term goals, the pacification program is promoting a new social and economic order that Wohlers expects will undermine the ability of opposition forces to organize the rural population against the government and military.

The free market economists, who traditionally dominate Guatemalan government economic planning, are urging the removal of trade restrictions and the expansion of agricultural export crops, particularly coffee, cotton, and sugar. But General Fuentes Corado believes future economic growth must incorporate small farmers too, and envisions a reorganization of small-scale production to include non-traditional products, such as broccoli, cabbages, and watermelon, that can be exported to nearby countries, primarily the United States.

Because of the human rights restrictions on U.S. aid and the lack of sufficient domestic resources, the CRN has had to limit implementation of its programs and to rely on existing structures to promote projects such as crop diversification. This led the CRN administration to incorporate the extensive rural farming and marketing cooperative system into its structure, thus further extending military control over rural economic development.

Colonel Wohlers, however, is aware that the cooperative system has produced many campesino leaders whose frustration with trying to improve the rural economy led to support for and participation in guerrilla movements. In an effort to realign the elements that in the late 1970s contributed to the radicalization of the cooperative movement and civilian population, Wohlers has designed a model project that he believes will alleviate the problems that have caused discontent in the countryside. The model is based on the Israeli kibbutz.

A kibbutz for Guatemala

In an isolated valley in Alta Verapaz, in northern Guatemala, construction of the country's first kibbutz-style agricultural collective began in July 1983, with plans for it to be in full operation by early 1984. The idea for the kibbutz came from a visit Wohlers made to Israel where he and another Guatemalan technician studied the elements of agricultural production on the kibbutz, applying these lessons to the circumstances particular to Guatemala. The development suggests an expanded role for Israel in Guatemala beyond its now well-established role as a military supplier and trainer.

Yalihux, the site of Guatemala's first kibbutz, is nestled in a valley near the town of Senahu. One of the more isolated spots in Guatemala, until recently Yalihux was accessible only by a seven hour horseback ride. CRN planners moved quickly to solve this problem, directing local residents to build roads approaching each end of the Yalihux valley.

The road-building crew is one of several project committees that form the economic backbone of what Colonel Wohlers describes as an "integral development plan." Men participate in different work projects-horticulture, pig raising, fisheries-and each project has two representatives on a central decisionmaking board which includes military and civil patrol representatives.

The consolidation of community development and security representatives within a single governing board integrates the two groups into a monolithic structure that ensures constant monitoring by the military. It thereby guards against the risk that the community will develop objectives contrary to government or military policy.

In an interview last September a CRN engineer working At Yalihux emphasized that the project is a bold experiment in social transformation, designed to undermine traditional social structures by eliminating community leadership roles that sprang from the cooperative system. "In cooperatives, the leadership directs," he said, while in Yalihux there is a general assembly with rotating representatives from different work groups, a structure he calls "communitarian integral development."

This radical experiment in social reorganization was planned by Wohlers for Yalihux, he said, because the government had never reached the area with services and, more strategically, because it had been what he termed "a subversive base." The engineer agreed that the valley plain had been "converted into a guerrilla camp," and many of the Kekchi Indians in the surrounding hillsides supported the guerillas.

"There were some deaths," he said, "and the army had to intervene." Forty-five families were accused of collaborating with the guerrillas and were taken to a military base in Playa Grande, a remote jungle spot where the army keeps civilians it suspects of guerrilla collaboration. The remaining 106 families were then encouraged to move onto the valley floor to participate in the kibbutz development and build a better defense against future guerrilla attempts to move back into the valley.

While CRN planners expect the economic benefits of communal production and sale of agricultural products to make a positive impression on the participants, the social reorganization is more difficult to accomplish.

The social and economic organization of Guatemalan Indian society has for centuries been based on the family, whether nuclear or extended. Family members perform distinct but interrelated tasks necessary for their mutual survival, with men responsible for growing food, women for the preparation of the food, and children for the care of their younger siblings and eventually for full participation in income-generating activities. A single family unit is often defined by ownership of a separate hearth and set of cooking utensils. For centuries families have maintained separate houses, garden plots, clothing, weaving and farming tools, and animals, though some communities have owned the farming lands communally. Status and prestige in such communities comes with age, knowledge of cultural traditions, and contribution to cultural events, religious festivities, etc.

Under the kibbutz model in Yalihux, however, women cook for the entire community in a newly built communal kitchen and leave their children in a daycare center so that, according to military planners, they can become "productive" members of society. A communal hall for organized adult And youth educational and civic activities has been built: community activities in the past have revolved around religious rituals and celebrations. Individuals are rewarded according to what they produce, not according to their status within the community.

Such changes require a drastic restructuring of traditional Indian family life. Beatriz Manz, a leading anthropologist and expert on Guatemalan Indians at Tufts University, regards the kibbutz arrangement as "institutionalized and alien" to family structure and cultural traditions of the Indians. "Guatemalan Indian society is a peasant society, not a modern industrial society," she says. "To transplant an efficient productive system to their rural way of life is absurd." Indeed, the engineer admits that the changes are difficult for the Kekchi Indians to accept and says "they are adapting, but it is very slow."

The attempt by Colonel Wohlers to introduce a radical approach to rural development is unusual in comparison to other projects of the CRN. In some of the other areas where the guerrillas had the support of the civilian population, the standard response is to herd people out of their mountain refuges and into camps where rudimentary construction and agriculture projects are undertaken in food-forwork projects. While the Yalihux experiment integrates military and civil defense in the central administration as it does in villages throughout Guatemala, it goes beyond this step to try to establish permanent changes in all aspects of village life.

The success of the Yalihux experiment cannot be judged for years. Its importance today lies in the scope of its intention to transform an Indian village into an Israeli-style kibbutz in order to undercut indigenous forms of social organization that have led to conflicts between rural populations and the government. Israel, the largest arms supplier to the Guatemalan army, had previously been involved in constructing a communications facility and a munitions factory in Guatemala. With the creation of the kibbutz in Guatemala, ties between the two countries go one step further to include the use of development funds in the counterinsurgency war against the country's civilian population.

Nancy Peckenham is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about Guatemala.

Guatemala Bucks IMF - For Now

In 1983, Guatemala's GNP dropped by 2.5 percent, a rate that was slightly better than 1982's 3 percent decrease, but fell far below the 7 percent average growth of the 1970s. Plummeting employment on the large plantations in the countryside coincided with the poorest corn harvest in decades. In the cities a foreign exchange scarcity reduced the number of imports and contributed to fewer investments in both the public and private spheres.

Official government economic planners in the administration of ex-president General Efrain Rios Montt spent much of 1983 designing programs to meet the requirements of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $120 million loan. These requirements, including reduced government spending, issuing bonds to international creditors, lower interest rate ceilings, wage freezes and the creation of a value-added tax, were instituted by the summer and in September the loan was tentatively approved.

The value-added tax is by far the most controversial of the measures. The tax is part of a tax reform package that includes the elimination of some 300 ineffective taxes and the gradual elimination of export duties for agricultural products. It also imposes new taxes on industry. The agricultural sector benefited tremendously from these changes while the industrial sector had to assume a greater share of the tax burden.

As a result, animosities between the two sectors reached a critical point with the withdrawal of coffee and cotton growers' associations from the Coordinator of Commerce, Industry and Finance, the country's most influential private economic institution.

The tax itself, originally a 10 percent levy on the purchase of all non-essential food stuffs and other goods, touched off widespread discontent when it went into effect on August 1, 1983. Retailers took advantage of the price hike and, in a chain reaction, prices for most products and essential food items rose dramatically. The price of corn and beans increased 10 to 20 percent overnight.

Residents of Guatemala City were unusually vocal about their displeasure with the value-added tax, which was constantly discussed on busses and street corners. A local yogi, Ramirez Valenzuela, planned a peaceful protest against the tax in defiance of a state-of-alarm ban on demonstrations. He was arrested and assigned to the secret tribunals, created by former President Rios Montt for political prisoners.

One week after the implementation of the value-added tax, Rios Montt was overthrown by the army high command, who used popular displeasure with the tax as a pretext to carry out a move planned for months. The new chief of state, General Mejia Victores, soon met opposition to the 10 percent tax primarily from industrialists, and in October he lowered the tax to 7 percent.

This move upset IMF plans, causing it to suspend the $120 million loan to Guatemala, while exerting pressure on the government to reverse its decision and return the tax to 10 percent or higher, according to press reports in Central America. To date no action has been taken by Mejia, but it is predicted he will bend to IMF pressure because the loan signifies confidence in Guatemala's economy and will pave the way for increased loans from other international banking institutions.

- N.P.

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