In his article "Restless Guatemalans Lured by Strongman: Discipline Upstaging Democracy" {news story, July 23}, Lee Hockstader used the words "democracy" or "democratic" 13 times. But he didn't define the terms other than to use them to refer to the period of civilian presidency since Vinicio Cerezo was inaugurated in January of 1986. Hockstader said that many Guatemalans are sick of democracy and are looking to retired general Rios Montt to rescue them from it.

Rios Montt, the "strongman" in the headline, came to power in 1982 through a coup and reigned with an iron fist until he was deposed by a coup the following year. He presided over one of the most brutal periods in modern Guatemalan history. While he did seemingly bring "law and order" to the cities (often through extremely harsh means), rural peasants, who make up a majority of the Guatemalan population yet hold almost no power, suffered wholesale murder, "disappearances," torture, massacres and forced labor at the hands of his security forces. His rule was part of the period known to Guatemalans as "La Violencia" (the violence).

Hockstader implied that Guatemala has been a democracy under Cerezo. But Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary defines "democracy" as "a form of government in which political power resides in all the people and is exercised by them directly or is given to elected representatives." The holding of elections is hardly proof that Guatemala is democratic.

Cerezo has never been willing and/or able to take power out of the hands of the Guatemalan military elite. What Guatemalans have had under Cerezo is not democracy, but corruption, continued military repression and economic chaos.

Hockstader gave "democracy" almost as bad a name as did President Ronald Reagan, when in 1982 he said Rios Montt was "totally dedicated to democracy in Guatemala."

-- Alice Zachmann

The writer is coordinator of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission.