`THE war?" repeats Gabriela Solares, looking up in puzzlement.
"Oh, the war," the Seventh Avenue street vendor says after a
split-second of reflection.
When Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu
officially receives the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize next week, the
international spotlight will fall on Guatemala's brutal 32-year
civil war - the oldest in Central America. An estimated 100,000
people have died in the conflict, and human rights violations
continue to be a major problem.
For many Guatemalans, however, the war remains distant. The
kidnappings and killings in urban areas can be rationalized as the
acts of criminals or political extremists. The skirmishes between
leftist insurgents and the military occur in the jungle highlands -
far from the daily life of Ms. Solares and many others.
"Ending the war is not an urgent problem for the majority who
live in cities," says Congresswoman Ana Caterina Reyes Soberanis.
"It's different than in El Salvador. The Guatemalan government
doesn't need to end the war to win votes. More important to most
people is what it's doing to make economic progress and reduce
Against this backdrop, the Guatemala peace negotiations
scheduled to resume by the end of November have yet to materialize.
The mediator, Roman Catholic Bishop Rodolfo Quezada Toruno,
intended to seize upon what he described as a new climate of
conciliation stimulated by the announcement of the Nobel Prize.
Shuttling between the government representatives and the leaders of
the Guatemala National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), who are in
Mexico, Bishop Quezada now says the talks are in a "difficult
`Past' vs. `Truth and Justice'
The two sides have met sporadically throughout most of this
year, slowly chipping away at disagreements stalling a human rights
accord, which is only the first of an 11-point negotiating agenda.
The current impasse centers on the "Commission of the Past," as
government negotiators call it. The URNG favors "Commission of
Truth and Justice." The commission would provide a written history
of human rights violations during the past three decades. It would
have no judicial powers and would not assign accountability to
The key disagreements are not over the name of the commission,
but when it will start and who will be on it. The URNG wants the
commission to begin work as soon as both sides can set a date,
rather than waiting until an overall peace agreement is reached.
Indeed, the rebels want the entire human rights accord to go into
effect now, with United Nations oversight.
President Jorge Serrano Elias's government is willing to let the
commission be formed now.
To avoid disrupting the talks, however, officials argue that the
commission should not start working until after a peace pact is
signed, and that the human rights accord should not be verified
The government wants the commission to be composed of three
Guatemalans. The URNG wants a representative of the UN and the
Catholic Church on the panel too.
"International participation is fundamental to the credibility
of the commission and the complete human rights accord," says Luis
Bekker Guzman, a URNG negotiator. "A Guatemalan would be subject to
a multiplicity of pressures and threats against his life and