Guatemalans Protest US Funds for Army Think Tank

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A DISNEYESQUE fortress with neat, white-trimmed parapets hardly seems a likely home for the Center of Strategic Studies for National Stability or "Centro ESTNA."

One does not expect to be greeted by deadly serious Guatemalan soldiers toting Israeli semiautomatic rifles. But it is this setting, in a former military academy, which has contributed to rumors and hard questions about the motive behind United States funding of Centro ESTNA, a two-year-old think tank with controversial links to Guatemala's military.

"I understand the US wanting to give support to independent institutions as part of building up the democratic process. But in this case, I think they're being naive," says Marta Altolaguirre, a lawyer and professor at Francisco Marroquin University. She says the true purpose of this program is "for Gramajo to build political support for the future."

The founder of Centro ESTNA is recently retired Defense Minister Hector Alejandro Gramajo Morales, who is widely believed to have presidential ambitions for the 1995 election. It is also said that the English-speaking general is a US favorite.

"He has all the right friends in Washington," says one former high-ranking Guatemalan government official. Although General Gramajo currently attends Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government (with support from the US government), he normally presides over major seminars at Centro ESTNA. "He's omnipresent," comments one participant, noting the center's nickname: "Gramajo U."

Gramajo could not be reached for comment. But supporters say there's nothing sinister about his participation nor the motives of the organization. "It's helping to make our country more constitutional, more democratic by pulling together leaders of all sectors of society ... to discuss our country's problems in an open forum," says Claudio Riedel, a member of the center-right Union of the National Center party.

Centro ESTNA gives 30-week-long seminars to invited community leaders. There are discussion groups and lectures on factors influencing national and international stability.

Out of 58 participants to date, according to Centro ESTNA records, only 11 were Guatemalan Army officers. …