FRANKLY WHEN we suggested the other day that the United States consider resuming military aid to Guatemala in order to acquire influence with which to tame the government's repressions, we were quite aware that the idea is subject to abuse, but we did not know the administration was heading so fast toward potential abuse of it. A plan has since emerged. The United States evidently is to resume military aid to the Lucas Garcia dictatorship, but to do so on grounds that there are some 2,000 "Cuban-supported Marxist guerrillas" in Guatemala. The notion of using aid for leverage seems to have faded into the middle distance, where it can be held up as evidence of good intentions but not allowed to get in the way.
There are guerrillas in Guatemala. But though they are certainly in some sense Cuban-encouraged, they have been around for years and are pretty much sustained on their own. Some foreign observers have detected a guerrilla buildup in the last year or so, but this is attributed to a very specific factor. It is a reaction to the almost unbelievable scale of violence conducted not against guerrillas, but against civilians by the government's security forces and by death squads with official ties. Amnesty International suggests that perhaps 3,600 citizens have been killed or have "disappeared" in the last two years. The army claims to have lost only 62 men in 1980.
What these figures suggest to us is that any program of American military aid not tied tightly to specific measures on limiting official violence is unthinkable. The evidence is that the Lucas Garcia government, which is outside the pale even for some of Washington's most reflexive anti-communist combatants, is the chief source of the guerrilla movement. If the administration's aim is simply to fight the guerrillas, then no aid should be given. If its aim is to stop the killings in order to try to help make Guatemala a healthy society and an effective anti-communist bulwark, then it must tie aid to government performance. Whether this administration has the self-discipline to make that connection remains the relevant question.
Actually, administration self-discipline is already being tested in El Salvador. The situation is different there: Ronald Reagan inherited an American commitment, while in Guatemala he inherited a vacuum as far as current official American ties are concerned. Before trying his hand in Guatemala, it might be useful for him to show whether he can push the genie of official repression back into the bottle in El Salvador, even while aiding the local junta in a battle against guerrillas. His administration is trying, perhaps harder than some critics grant, but it has not yet met with success.