Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

The Guatemalan Constitution which took effect in January 1986
provides for a democratically elected president, a 100-member
unicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary. Free
and fair elections brought a civilian government to office in
January 1986, and nationwide municipal elections were held in
April 1988. Elements across the political spectrum are
represented in Guatemalan politics, and the Government and its
policies are widely criticized.
Since August 1988, the Ministries of Interior and Defense have
begun to coordinate the efforts of their three separate
security forces under a Civil Protection System (SIPROCI).
Members of the security forces work together in combined or
coordinated operations to combat common crime and threats to
national security. The National Police and the Treasury
Police are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of
Interior. The Ministry of Defense controls the Mobile
Military Police.
Changes in the judiciary and the police, as well as increased
professionalism in the military, have had a positive impact on
respect for human rights. The Government has demonstrated a
commitment to reducing human rights violations by the security
forces by prosecuting members of the National Police and exmembers
of civil defense patrols who committed abuses. The
Guatemalan military pursued violators of the law and punished
them through courts martial or administrative sanctions, for
crimes ranging from rebellion to homicide.
An economic recovery begun in 1987 translated into slightly
higher per capita incomes for Guatemalans in 1988, as moderate
growth continued. Estimates indicate unemployment has fallen
steadily since 1986. Despite higher government outlays, the
budget deficit was modest, and inflation was under control. A
history of a badly skewed income distribution and of past
inattention to needed social services has slowed the spread of
the benefits of the economic recovery to lower income groups.
Despite deep social divisions and a history of violent
resolution of disputes, adherence to democratic principles
continued to improve. The situation at year's end had
improved both economically and politically, since 1986 when
the elected civilian government took office. The generally
free environment encouraged the broader exercise of individual
rights. Most Guatemalans, including the leadership of the
armed forces, rejected an attempt by dissident officers to
overthrow the Government in May 1988. Although the Government
undertook prosecution of both civilian and military
participants in the coup attempt, the Congress subsequently
enacted an amnesty law, primarily directed at the decades-old
armed insurgency, which covered all the participants in the
abortive coup. However, most of the military participants
were dismissed from active duty or reassigned to positions of
little consequence. The number of violent crimes reported
rose noticeably over the last year, but there was no evidence
that the Government pursued a policy of political killing.
The overall improved human rights climate was reflected in the
return to Guatemala of a growing number of self-exiles during
the year. Two leftist leaders of the United Representation of
the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG) , Rigoberta Menchu and Rolando
Castillo, visited Guatemala.
The United Nations advisory expert for Guatemala, Hector Gross
Espiel, who is also a judge of the Inter-American Court of
Human Rights, noted progress in the human rights situation,
and found no evidence of Government policy condoning human
rights violations. He concluded that the abuses which still
occur are a product of criminal activity in the country. The
annual report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(lACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded
that although violations of the right to life remain
alarmingly great, it also observed in many respects major
progress in the human rights area.
Important human rights problems remain in Guatemala, involving
the use of force and abuses by political extremists and some,
individual and former members of the security forces. These
problems are aggravated by a legacy of violence, vigilante
justice, and rising crime, with which the judiciary and
democratic institutions have thus far developed only a limited
capacity to cope.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
The level of known killings in which a political motive could
not be ruled out remained unchanged in 1988, reaching 44 for
the months January through June—and is a dramatic decline
from the high levels of political killing in the early 1980's.
It is not known how many of these deaths were, in fact,
politically motivated or, if so, which group or faction was
responsible. Homicides attributed to common crime, including
cases of suspected vigilante justice by private citizens,
continued at a high rate in 1988. National Police statistics
showed an average of 188 killings each month. Differentiating
cases of common crime from those that are politically
motivated is often difficult.
A prominent example is the September 11 confrontation of land
reform advocate Father Andre Giron and three companions with
30 to 35 heavily armed men on an isolated road. Giron*
bodyguard was shot and killed, but Giron was allowed to
continue unharmed. The identity and motive of the attackers
was not established. Human rights activists assert that the
murder was designed to intimidate followers of Father Giron.
The case remains unresolved.
The Government continued its efforts to eliminate official
involvement in political killings through reorganization and
improved training of police and military forces, and also by
prosecuting military and police officers on criminal charges.
The former chief of police of Quetzaltenango, Catalino Valiente
Alonso, and seven former police officers were found guilty on
July 22 and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the October
1987 kidnaping and murder of university student leaders
Danilo Sergio Alvarado Mejia and Rene Haroldo Leiva Cayax.
Two former commanders of the civil defense patrol of
Chijtinimit in Chichicastenango, El Quiche, Miguel Batz Aj and
Manuel Guarcas Colaj were charged with the 1983 murders of 23
persons described as former guerrillas who had obtained
amnesty. The Congressionally appointed Human Rights Ombudsman
investigated the massacre based on a formal complaint submitted
to his office by a member of the Mutual Support Group (GAM), a
group of relatives of missing persons. A mass grave was
uncovered in February by the Office of the Ombudsman. After
lengthy judicial procedures, the two were found not guilty for
lack of evidence by the Quetzaltenango Appeals Court on
Novembver 17.
Allegations of death-squad type activities in 1988 continued,
with press reports indicating that the activity of ultraright
terrorist groups has been increasing. The number of reported
kidnapings and murders in which there are similarities to
death-squad methods of previous years has been rising. The
Government denies any military or police involvement in
death-squad like killings.
A Christian Democratic mayor of Quezaltepeque, Chiquimula was
ambushed and shot dead by three masked men in October after
only 2 1/2 months in office. The mayor, Francisco Javier
Landaverry Guerra, had previously served in that office during
1980-1982 as a member of the rightwing MLN party. The
Government is investigating and has not ruled out political
Eusebio Ajcalon Piof and Domingo Ajcalon Matzul were reportedly
abducted on the evening of May 29 by two armed men in olive
green uniforms. Early on May 30, the bodies of the two men
were found on the land of Jose Yot in the small village of
Mocolixot, Patzun. Eusebio Ajcalon had been a member of the
local development council in Mocolixot Bajo, and some people
assert he was politically active in his community. The
murders remain unsolved.
Twenty-two villagers from San Andres Itzapa were kidnaped and
executed between November 22 and 24, apparently by the leftist
insurgent Revolutionary Organization of the People in Arms
(ORPA) . The motive for the killings remains undetermined.
The bodies of a civilan assistant to the Military Commissioner
of Chimaltenango, who had disappeared while looking for a
stray animal, and relatives and friends who had gone to search
for him, were found in communal graves. The corpses reportedly
showed signs of strangulation and torture. Members of the
villagers' search party who managed to escape the guerrillas
stated that ORPA was responsible for the killings. On
November 27, the Government denounced the brutal massacre and
called upon the international community to condemn the
guerrillas. From their headquarters in Mexico City, the
insurgents' propaganda organ CERIGUA denied that that ORPA was
responsible and alleged that the military carried out the
massacre. Nevertheless, on November 28, in a press release
from Mexico City, CERIGUA claimed that ORPA had inflicted 25
casualties on the Guatemalan Army in two ambushes carried out
one after another at San Andres Itzapa, Chimaltenango military
zone on November 25. The guerrillas' report tracks closely
with the facts of the massacre.
      b. Disappearance
Although disappearances occured in Guatemala in 1988 at a rate
greatly reduced from that of the early 1980's, the National
Police still reported an average of 27 kidnapings per month,
nearly three times the rate at which kidnapings were reported
during the previous 2 years. Almost 50 percent involved
persons under the age of 16, a phenomenon that has swelled the
number of disappeared since the last quarter of 1987. While
some of the kidnapings are presumed to have been politically
motivated, this alarming increase, particularly in the 16 and
under age group, appears to reflect an increase in kidnaping
for profit.
Among notable disappearances were those in February of Remigio
Gomez Quisquina, his four brothers, his father, a cousin, and
a friend in San Lucas Tollman. They never returned after
allegedly going out to look for firewood. Reportedly the
family first believed that they had been abducted by the
military, but they later thought that the guerrillas, who were
known to be looking for recruits in that area, may have
waylaid the men. The disappearances remained unsolved.
Particularly troublesome cases were the following: Ana
Elizabeth Paniagua Morales was abducted in Guatemala City on
February 9 by three men in jogging outfits who forced her into
a white van. Her body was found with knife wounds 2 days
later. The National Police announced that Ms. Paniagua had a
prison record for crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder.
They also noted that her family was not cooperating with the
police investigation. In a case of similar modus operandi.
University of San Carlos agronomy student Jose Albino Grijalva
Estevez was kidnaped at a bus stop in Guatemala City on
February 16 and taken away, also in a white van. His body was
found with knife and gunshot wounds the next day in Barberena,
Santa Rosa. The GAM denounced both murders and seized on the
cases as examples of officially sponsored violence. In June
the National Police presented documentation to the courts
which alleged that Treasury Police agents were responsible for
these abductions and murders, as well as others. The accused
were subsequently released from pretrial custody by the
presiding judge, purportedly for lack of evidence. These
cases remain unsolved. Little information concerning further
police investigation has come to light.
The judge presiding over the Paniagua and Grijalva abductions
and murders was himself detained. Judge Anibal Trejo Duque
and Carlos Moran Arriaga were abducted on July 20. The
discovery of Trejo's abandoned vehicle led to an investigation
of the apparent kidnaping. Moran was found dead on the
morning of July 22. Trejo was freed that evening and stated
that his captors did not ask him any questions about the case
he was prosecuting, though some observers believe the abduction
was related to the case. Trejo reported that he was treated
well and told that his abduction was a mistake. He also
insisted that Moran was not with him when he was abducted.
Shortly thereafter Judge Trejo released all the accused
Treasury Police agents from pretrial custody.
On July 1, during her first visit back to Guatemala in 7
years, Maria Elena Caspar Xuncax, a Kanjobal Indian who is a
legal permanent resident of the United States, was detained by
uniformed police officers. She had been denounced as an active
guerrilla by a villager in Barrillas, Huehuetenango . According
to her own account of the incident, she was taken by
plainclothesmen to a nearby military camp and allegedly
threatened during repeated interrogations. Ms. Caspar was
freed on July 6, and the military brought her back to San
Miguel, where she had been staying with relatives. Her family
in Barillas had received no confirmation of her whereabouts.
According to government sources, the army formally apologized
to Ms. Caspar stating that the case was one of mistaken
identity. Ms. Caspar had no further problems during the
remainder of her visit to Guatemala.
Salvadoran citizen Rafael Vega Castillo disappeared in Januaryafter
driving into Guatemala and carrying a large amount of
currency with which to purchase computer equipment. Police
agents privately told the Vega family that he was seen in a
military police prison, where he was held under another name.
Military authorities deny that he was ever held by them. The
National Police report that the bodies of Vega and another man
were found on February 18 in Esquintla. Vega died from a head
fracture and a gunshot wound. Vega was positively identifed
on March 17 by his uncle, with whom he had lived in El
Salvador. This case remains unsolved.
Efforts to locate or account for missing persons from previous
years continued in 1988. GAM is the most vocal private
Guatemalan organization to demand investigation into these
disappearances. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, in
operation since August 1987, continued to investigate alleged
human rights abuses, including disappearances. It is expected
to issue a report in January 1989. Similar concern was
expressed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
During 1988 reports of torture attributable to the military or
police forces were infrequent. The National Police, under the
coordination of the Interior Ministry, have stated that they
are attempting to end all such abuses. Through training and
foreign assistance programs from several countries, including
the United States, Spain, Venezuela, and the Federal Republic
of Germany, the National Police have begun to be
professionalized through improved investigative and forensic
laboratory techniques. There have been some cases of prisoners
being murdered while they are in prison, but the Government
has not been blamed for them.
The case of Antonio Melendez Bouscayrol, detained by police on
May 23 for allegedly shooting a police officer in Guatemala
City, was significant to the issue of abuse. After his
detention in the National Police's Seventh Precinct, Melendez
died from cranial trauma. The Seventh Precinct attempted to
cover up the crime by stating that Melendez had been found
dead by police agents. Subsequent investigation by the
National Police determined that Melendez died as a result of
violence, and six police agents and the subchief of the
Seventh Precinct were arrested. On two occasions, the latest
being December 27, the Guatemalan courts have ruled that there
is sufficient evidence to justify the continued detention of
five of the policemen charged. Determination of their guilt
or innocence was expected to be made in January 1989.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Allegations of arbitrary arrest are infrequent in Guatemala.
Under the Constitution, a person cannot be held for more than
6 hours without being brought before a judge and formally
charged with a crime.
Other procedural safeguards include the need for an arrest
warrant from the criminal court where the accusation is
presented when the accused is not apprehended in the actual
commission of a crime. The law also stipulates that the time
limit for incarceration during completion of the investigatory
phase and sustainment or dropping of the charge is 20 days.
Additionally, the law incorporates a constitutional protection
against illegal detention and requires the personal appearance
of any person who is illegally detained or whose freedom is
threatened in any way. These safeguards are generally
Involuntary exile is not used as a punishment by the
Government, and there have been no known instances in which
government critics were arrested for political reasons. There
were no known cases in 1988 of persons being imprisoned for
political reasons or for nonviolent exercise of basic human
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary,
operating under the civil law tradition, and strengthens the
judiciary's independence by allotting it a set percentage of
the national budget. In practice, however, such a budgetary
level is not always reached. The Constitution establishes a
Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals and several courts of
particular jurisdiction. Civilians are subject to the formal
civilian judicial system; military courts have jurisdiction
only over military personnel. Despite government attempts to
strengthen the judicial system, it still shows some vestiges
of the inefficiency, corruption, and intimidation by outside
elements that has characterized it in the past.
All accused are allowed a public trial, once the investigatory
phase is complete. The right to legal counsel is provided for
by law and made available by the State to indigents. State
funded legal services are usually provided by law students.
Since the majority of the nation's lawyers live in or near
Guatemala city, it is sometimes difficult to obtain legal
counsel in the countryside. Defendants may be released at the
discretion of the magistrate after posting bail. Cumbersome
judicial machinery results in many defendants spending several
months in prison before their cases are brought to trial. All
cases are granted an automatic appeal upon conviction and
reviewed in the Court of Appeals.
The Guatemalan judiciary is working to improve the
effectiveness of its legal system and to acquire needed
training and equipment, with the assistance of the U.N.
Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of
Criminals (ILANUD) and other donors.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home,
personal correspondence, and private papers. Instances of
authorities violating the privacy of the home and engaging in
criminal acts against individuals and property are isolated.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and
expression. Guatemala's print and broadcast media actively
criticize the Government and leading civilian officials.
Newspapers carry paid advertisements placed by the illegal
Communist Party and the umbrella guerrilla group that is
waging war against the Government. Guerrilla press releases
provide the insurgent version of clashes with the military,
and in-depth interviews with guerrilla leaders have recently
appeared in the nation's leading print media.
Despite the more open atmosphere, journalists continue to
exercise a degree of self-censorship in reporting on military
matters and personalities. Media organs that have given
interview space to guerrilla leaders have been careful to give
equal time to army spokesmen. Journalists remain wary of
investigating charges of malfeasance or corruption in the
military. The last year has seen increased tension between
the Government and much of the nation's news media. Extremely
jealous of their prerogatives, the media are quick to react to
anything they interpret as pressure from the Government.
In the wake of the failed May 11 coup attempt, a number of
incidents occurred that ran counter to the general tendency
towards greater freedom of expression. These events raised
questions about the Government's ability to maintain and
guarantee the progress made towards greater openness. In late
May, the Government closed one of the nation's four commercial
television channels which carried a stridently antigovernment
news program run by an unsuccessful 1985 presidential
candidate. The courts ordered the station to be allowed back
on the air after a 12-day period. The Government complied and
the news program was broadcast for a few days until its
contract with the television channel expired in early June.
The news program's management charged that its contract was
not renewed due to government pressures on the channel's
management. Both the channel and the Government deny this
On May 19 the residence/office of the representative of the
Soviet news agency Tass was damaged by a terrorist bomb attack.
The Tass representative left Guatemala shortly after this
attack, and the representative of the Cuban news agency Prensa
Latina closed his office about the same time, reportedly after
receiving death threats. While Tass and Prensa Latina
representatives have traveled to Guatemala on trips
subsequently, neither organization has reopened its office
On June 10 a left-leaning weekly newspaper. La Epoca, was the
object of a predawn terrorist bomb attack. The attack,
conducted against the newspaper's editorial and administrative
offices, was also aimed at the ACEN-SIAG news agency, an
organization owned and operated by the same persons who
publish La Epoca. A witness to the attack was kidnaped, held
and interrogated by the bombers for 30 hours. Although
material damage was extensive, no one was seriously injured.
The Government condemned the attack, and the director of the
Government's daily newspaper publicly offered the temporary
use of its facilities to insure no break in publication. La
Epoca's publisher, after vowing to reopen immediately, changed
his mind and left the country. He attributed his change of
heart to death threats directed at him and the members of his
staff. He publicly charged "elements of the state security
apparatus" for the attack. -Although no evidence was produced
to prove this accusation, it is widely believed by local
observers. The publisher returned to Guatemala in September.
Foreign films, books, magazines, and newspapers circulate
freely in Guatemala. The Government does not jam foreign
radio or television broadcasts. Foreign correspondents are
able to report without government interference.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The rights of peaceful assembly and political association are
provided for in the Constitution, and the Government attempts
to assure that these rights are exercised freely. According
to the Constitution, the Government must grant formal
organizations the legal status which is common in Latin
America, but the lack of such status has not been an impediment
to peaceful association. Organizations without legal status
function freely, and the Government meets with their
Leftist leaders who maintain ties with guerrilla support groups
outside the country returned to Guatemala in April, and they
were allowed to address public rallies and march in the May Day
parade. Despite provocations during the parade, the police
acted with restraint and, as in other public demonstrations
during the past 3 years, the parade ended peacefully.
On September 2, a bomb exploded on the campus of the Catholic
University. There were no injuries. A previously unknown
terrorist group claimed responsibility for the blast, which
was widely viewed as a rightwing response to an announced
seminar on liberation theology. The Government condemned the
International groups who have investigated human rights
practices in Guatemala allege that opposition leaders have
been subject to harrassment and violence. However, there have
been major improvements in this regard since Guatemala
established a democratic government. The Union of Guatemalan
Workers' Unions (UNSITRAGUA) , a labor confederation which is
the heir to an organization which sent recruits to the
guerrillas in the 1970's, emerged with a clandestine
leadership in the mid-1980's. In 1988, its leaders held
public meetings and filmed press conferences making
inflammatory accusations against the Government for its
economic policies. While there were reports of anonymous
threats, UNSITRAGUA leaders themselves acknowledge that the
Government protected their right to dissent.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Guatemala has no state religion. More than 70 percent of the
population is Roman Catholic, but all religious denominations
have the right to practice freely in Guatemala. Many Indians,
who comprise roughly 50 percent of the nation's total
population, mix native beliefs with Catholic practices. Over
25 percent of Guatemalans now adhere to Protestant
denominations, most of which are evangelical in nature. There
are also small communities of Jews, Mormons, Baha'is, and
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no legal restrictions on freedom of movement within
the country or travel abroad. A number of prominent leftists
who fled Guatemala in the early 1980 's have returned, some to
visit temporarily and others to live permanently. Leaders of
the insurgents' umbrella organization, the Guatemalan National
Revolutionary Union (URNG) , announced to the National
Reconciliation Commission that they wished to return to
Guatemala to participate in the national dialogue. The
Government responded that they could return to Guatemala only
if they laid down their arms and accepted the amnesty.
Guerrillas who have accepted the amnesty are documented by the
Government and allowed to live where they choose.
The model village program of the former military government
was tranferred from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of
Development after civilian rule was reestablished in 1986.
Since then, it has been govern.ment policy not to develop
additional model villages.
Guatemala generated thousands of refugees and displaced
persons in the early 1980's. Refugees are now repatriating as
security and living conditions improve in areas of conflict.
The number of returnees has increased each year since the
inauguration of the civilian Government, reaching about 3,000
in 1988 (three times the number that returned in 1987).
Nearly 4,500 displaced persons returned to areas under
Government control in 1988. Although those who return from
refuge in or outside the country or from service with the
guerrillas may find that their land is now being farmed by
others, the Government guarantees that returning refugees will
receive either their own land or land in newly settled areas.
This has not always proven to be possible in practice, and a
few repatriated refugees have sought to return to their
country of asylum.
Guatemala continues to receive refugees from Nicaragua and El
Salvador. Estimates of the number of Nicaraguans living in
Guatemala vary between 7,000 and 20,000, most of whom are in
the country illegally. There are also thousands of Salvadorans
who came to Guatemala, some as temporary laborers and others
to escape guerrilla vjarfare. Many of these displaced persons
obtain assistance from church groups and other charities.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
President Vinicio Cerezo took office in January 1986 after
free and fair democratic elections in 1985 following 20 years
of military rule. The President and a majority of
Congressional Deputies are members of the Christian Democratic
Party. The 100-member unicameral Congress currently contains
11 political parties which range across the political spectrum.
The President and Congressional Deputies were elected to 5-year
terms in 1985 and new national elections are scheduled for
1990. Nationwide municipal elections were held in April 1988,
and by all accounts they were free and fair. Lower than
expected voter turnout was attributed to the elimination in
the new Constitution of the previous law which imposed a fine
on citizens who did not vote.
Seven women were elected to the National Congress, and there
are two female Cabinet members.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The continuing activities of the constitutionally mandated
Human Rights Ombudsman, named in August 1987, are part of a
wider effort to ensure respect for human rights. The Ombudsman
opened offices in 5 of Guatemala's 22 departments, and
processed (e.g., investigated, referred for action, or
dismissed) nearly 700 of the 850 cases put before him through
August 1988.
The Government has welcomed international human rights
delegations. Though not many international groups have
permanent offices in Guatemala, many have representatives in
the country or visit fairly frequently. Amnesty International
and Americas Watch issued reports in 1988 that were critical
of the human rights situation in Guatemala, although they did
note improvements. Representatives of both groups have visited
Guatemala since the democratically elected Government came to
power in January 1986.
Hector Gross Espial, mentioned previously as the United
Nations human rights expert for Guatemala and a judge of the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, visited in August and
consulted with the Government on human rights issues. Gross
Espiel said that the human rights situation in Guatemala has
improved, and that significant progress had been made because
there is no longer a policy of human rights violations carried
out by government officials. When he returned to Guatemala in
November, Gross Espiel stated that those human rights
violations which still occur are a product of the wave of
criminal activity in the country. He urged the Government to
move from a policy of not violating human rights to taking a
more effective role in preventing human rights abuses in the
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (lACHR) of the
Organization of American States (OAS) visited Guatemala in
January 1988 to investigate and to express to the Government
of Guatemala its concern over reports of forced disappearances.
In its 1987-1988 Annual Report, the lACHR stated its
appreciation to the Government of Guatemala for its cooperation
with the work of the Commission. It also noted that Guatemala
has submitted to the obligatory jurisdiction of the lACHR.
The Commission concluded that, even though violations of the
right of life in Guatemala remained alarmingly great, there
was major progress, including a significant number of
Government institutions dedicated to the promotion, protection
and defense of human rights. It described the country's
domestic legislation on human rights as among the most
advanced. The lACHR report commended the attitude of the
Government in redoubling its efforts to put an end to a long
record of uncontrolled violence, which it noted had more than
once imperiled the stability of the constitutional order. The
Commission called for continuation of efforts to consolidate
the democratic process and to protect and defend human rights.
A locally managed Red Cross, with no connection to the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has operated
freely in Guatemala for many years. In January 1988, the ICRC
opened an office in Guatemala. However, by year's end, the
Government and the ICRC had not yet reached formal agreement
on the status of the organization as an international mission.
While this caused the ICRC to delay initiation of full
Operations within Guatemala, the organization was engaged in
evaluating the situation of displaced persons and providing
human rights education for the Guatemalan Army.
The GAM, a group of relatives of missing persons, continued
its efforts to locate those who have disappeared, although its
demonstrations have been less well attended than in previous
years. The group is most active in rural areas. The GAM
continues to receive international support, and in 1988 it
received an award from a Protestant church of the Federal
Republic of Germany.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Stark cultural differences between the ladino middle and upper
classes and the large number of indigenous Mayan groups, who
comprise approximately 50 percent of Guatemala's population,
have historically created tensions between the two groups. In
an attempt to bring the indigenous people into national life,
the Government is providing medical attention as well as
bilingual education in Spanish and native languages to those
who live in the most distant rural areas. Indians living near
towns have had access to these benefits. Citizens of Indian
descent have the same legal rights as other Guatemalans, and
several have been elected as members of the National Congress
and as mayors
Women are making significant contributions in the Government
and in the private sector. In addition to the women in the
Cabinet and the National Congress, six of Guatemala's
ambassadors are women, as is the person appointed to the
"notable person" position on the National Reconciliation
Commission, formed pursuant to the Esquipulas II Agreement.
Despite this progress, centuries-old stereotypes still exist.
The Government established a National Office of Women (ONAM)
to address the needs of women in the work force. Staff and
resource limitations restrict its ability to coordinate
activities with 56 Guatemalan women's organizations. Among
the issues ONAM is attempting to address are employer
discrimination against married and pregnant women, the
inability of professional women to find employment, and the
lack of sufficient daycare centers for the children of working
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Workers have a right under the Constitution to associate. As
do other organizations, unions must obtain recognition from
the State to have legal status. Prior to 1984, this
requirement was used to frustrate organizing activity, and
only about 2 percent of the labor force was unionized. The
new Constitution extends the right to strike even to public
sector unions, and the number of organized workers has grown
rapidly, now constituting about 8 percent of the labor force.
The Labor Code establishes labor courts that form the core of
a complex system designed to settle labor disputes. The
Ministry of Labor has the authority to arbitrate strikes, and
most parties prefer to negotiate rather than go to the
backlogged Labor Courts.
Although strikes are technically illegal unless all the steps
in the Labor Code are followed, employers, including state
agencies, have made concessions to unions to settle strikes
that were illegal on those grounds. By law, union jurisdiction
must be limited to one company. Labor federations may assist
individual unions, but there is no industrywide bargaining.
More unions have acquired legal status in the past 2 years
than at any time in the previous 30 years. Yet there are also
scores of unions awaiting legal recognition. Obtaining
recognition can still be time-consuming and cumbersome, and
some have alleged that political influence or ideological
orientation plays a role in the process. For example, although
the law states it should take unions 90 days to register with
the Government, some union leaders have reported delays of up
to 2 years. Nevertheless, all of the unions receive more
favorable treatment than they did in the past. A number of
unions are operating without legal recognition, and this denies
them some protections under the Labor Code, but collective
bargaining pacts which have the same legal force as contracts
with recognized unions are still negotiated by these unions.
Guatemalan unions are members of international labor
organizations and in 1988 the largest union chose the worker
delegate to the International Labor Organization (ILO). At
its November 1988 session, the ILO Governing Body accepted
final conclusions and recommendations of its Committee on
Freedom of Association (CFA) in a case brought against the
Government of Guatemala by the Guatemalan Trade Union
Confederation (CUSG) . In its conclusions the CFA: acknowledged
the Government's cooperation; recommended further steps,
including revision of the law to facilitate registration of
unions; and asked to be apprised of future developments.
There is an active Solidarismo movement in the country. While
leaders of the Solidarismo movement claim that it is a
legitimate form of worker organization, the AFL/CIO, and the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and
other international trade union organizations contend that
Solidarismo is an employer-inspired alternative to independent
trade unions. The Ministry of Labor has thus far refused to
register Solidarismo organizations as unions.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The 1985 Constitution guarantees workers the right to organize,
even in the public sector, and there has been a high level of
organizing activity in recent times. The Labor Code, which
predates the Constitution, establishes a complex system to
settle labor disputes and gives the Minister of Labor power to
arbitrate. Unions have been more successful in raising wages
through collective bargaining at the plant level than in
raising overall wages through public protests.
When a worker is a union official, the law provides that he
cannot be fired, and this protection extends for 2 years after
he leaves office. While union officials complain that the law
is not implemented effectively, the major impediment to
organizing is employer resistance, not the law.
There are no zones in Guatemala where legal protection for
workers does not apply. Labor organizing is legal but still
difficult in areas where there was revolutionary violence in
the late 1970's, particularly in the Indian highlands.
Union members became concerned about a possible politicallymotivated
assasination when Carlos Martinez Godoy, a lowranking
offical in a bank employees union, was murdered in
October in front of his house. However, officials in the
Federation of Bank Unions (FESEBS) indicated that Martinez
Godoy had no connection with a dispute then under way with the
Army Bank and acknowledged that the union he represented had
just completed successful contract negotiations with its own
management. In November a National Police agent was detained
and brought before the courts as the suspected murderer. No
political motive was apparent; the killing was considered to
be a crime of passion.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution provides the right of workers to freely choose
their work, and the practice of compulsory labor is prohibited
by law. However, there have been frequent complaints that
persons are forced to participate in the civil defense patrols
under threats and intimidation, especially in areas of
conflict, and are compelled to perform unrelated tasks without
compensation. This would be illegal under the Constitution,
although the U.N. Convention on Forced Labor allows
conscription into military service and community service
projects. In response to questions which arise regarding the
voluntary nature of civil defense patrols, the Government
presented the Human Rights Ombudsman with a formal written
declaration that service is strictly voluntary, and the
Ombudsman has disseminated copies of the declaration to all
civil defense patrols.
American Embassy officers visiting areas of conflict have
found that service on the patrols is viewed as an obligation
to community service and a sign of social status. Civil
defense members see themselves to be protecting their
community so that the military need not patrol there.
Guatemala had a tradition of forced labor by indigenous
workers, the Encomienda system, which was outlawed in the
1930's. Vagrancy laws in effect until the 1950's allowed for
the imprisonment of persons who did not have employment. This
history still influences attitudes in some rural areas.
However, the Government is seeking to eliminate abuses when
they occur.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution prohibits the employment of children under
the age of 14, and this restriction, generally observed in the
formal economy, is enforced by the Ministry of Labor through a
system of labor inspectors and labor courts. Although
enforcement is not always effective in the more informal
economy, child labor is generally not a widespread abuse. In
the informal economy, particularly in rural areas, whole
families work, with children assisting their parents.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage is $1.20 dper day in rural areas and $1.50 in
urban areas. Ministry of Labor data shows that 85 percent of
Guatemalan families do not have enough income to meet their
basic needs and that 72 percent live in extreme poverty. Its
Commission on Wages, which includes union representatives,
recognizes that it must encourage the creation of employment
when setting minimum wages. Minimum wages were raised in 1988
for the first time this decade. The Constitution provides for
a 44-hour workweek. There are occupational safety and health
regulations, but they are not always effectively enforced.