The headquarters of Guatemala's most feared politician is reached through a dark chapel, dominated by a large glass case holding a crucifix with a black Christ, and surrounded by vases on pedestals filled with pink plastic gladioluses.
A half-dozen guards with machine guns bar the way to the inner office. Beyond them, the cult atmosphere grows: images of the sword and the cross, the symbols of the warrior monks of the Middle Ages, adorn the walls. A large display lists the names of "martyrs" and "traitors" to the party.
Mario Sandoval Alarcon, former vice president of the republic and a lifelong, passionate anticommunist, heads the fiercely rightist National Liberation Movement. In this country, where a politician's life is cheap, many people are impressed that he is still alive.
Sandoval's only handicap stems from a cancer operation that cost him vocal cords, and he now speaks with great difficulty through a voicebox that produces gusts of bellowing sound. But this has never inhibited Sandoval's energy, political drive or anger.
Like many Guatemalan rightists, Sandoval is angry at the United States. To him, this year is a grim counterpoint to 1954, when the Central Intelligence Agency backed the National Liberation Movement in staging a coup against the reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz -- a move that has since left Guatemala in an unending spiral of violence between right and left.
Last year, according to the National Police, rightist death squads killed 3,252 people, while leftist guerrillas killed 81.
But now that Washington is advocating social change in neighboring El Salvador to avoid polarization and leftist victory and is perceived as supporting the existing leftist government in Nicaragua, Sandoval and many rightists here believe that Guatemala should break relations with the United States to prevent it from "interfering" here.
More than an apostate, Sandoval believes President Carter is "naive," and the State Department "is stupid."
"They meddled in Nicaragua and El Salvador," he said. "They're letting the communists take over in Central America." Waving his right hand decorated with a diamond ring, Sandoval warned: "But in Guatemala, we are not going communist, whether Washington likes it or not."
Sandoval's National Liberation Movement represents the interests of Guatemala's arch conservative, powerful landowning class, although the movement has some more humble grass-roots followers in the eastern part of the country, where its message blends well with the Catholic fanaticism of the non-Indian peasantry.
Between 1956 and 1960 and 1970 and 1978, the powerful National Liberation Movement shared control of the government with the Army. Although it is now formally in opposition, it still retains close ties with the conservative military elite.
Its power stems both from the heavy financing provided by the large landowners, and from the terror it has managed to spread among its opponents. The National Liberation Movement traditionally has kept a paramilitary force of armed peasants and former police estimated by Sandoval to number 3,000.
Although Sandoval declined comment, other National Liberation Movement members said that their "troops" were ready to fight alongside the right in neighboring El Salvador, if necessary. Western diplomats believe that Guatemalan rightists have already crossed into that country in recent weeks.
While the conservative, but more modern, business community in the Guatemalan capital does not like to be identified with this portion of the extreme right, the new common interest -- fighting the current "onslaught of communism" -- recently has brought the two closer together.
As they see it, the threat covers a broad spectrum of political thought. It includes church leaders, students, Christian and Social Democrats, the growing worker and peasant organizations here, and leftist guerrillas who all demand varying political and social reform of Guatemala's near-feudal economy.
Instead of resisting change, which is synonymous with communism here, conservative Guatemalans have decided to launch an all-out offensive against it.
With Washington viewed as being on the wrong side of the fence, the conservative movement here has turned to the model and expertise of right-wing activists in Chile and Brazil.
One source of inspiration, Sandoval said, is "Patria y Libertad" -- the Chilean neofacist organization that claimed numerous acts of terrorism and sabotage against the former president Salvador Allende's government in 1972 and 1973.
Sandoval, who laces his conversation with slogans of Spain's rightist Falange group, boasted that the leaders of Patria y Libertad are his "close friends."
Others, like Manuel Ayau, rector of the conservative Francisco Marroquin University and considered here the "ideologue" of the business community, have kept their focus on Brazil.
In an interview, Ayau recalled that the inspiration and planning for the 1964 right-wing military coup in Brazil came from businessmen and professionals who mobilized the middle class against reformist President Joao Goulart.
The strategy of the right also involves publishing threats against journalists who appear too independent. In recent months, two have been killed and a number have left the country.
The key to Guatemala's anticommunist crusade is "winning the battle next door in El Salvador," said one businessman. "If that fails, we remain isolated."
Without elaboration, he said: "We send financial support for the struggle in El Salvador."
According to well-placed diplomatic sources here, some of the money goes to former members of the National Guard of ousted Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza who fled to Guatemala after his overthrow.A number of these Nicaraguans, the sources said, have joined the right-wing death squads who recently have become increasingly active in both Guatemala and El Salvador.
The first signs of capital flight and a weakening economy are showing -- more than $50 million fled the country in February, according to banking sources. But Sandoval and the businessmen are confident the right will prevail. "Our army has lots of experience," Sandoval said. "It has been fighting against subversion since 1963."
Downstairs at his headquarters, where Nicaraguan refugees camp out, Sandoval walked over to a group of people listening to a speech. On a rostrum, made of the letters MLN, an old man shouted, "We must be clean, we must inspire young people with our example."
As he climbed into his gray Alfa Romeo, followed up with two Mercedes Benz cars filled with armed bodyguards, Sandoval warned that the National Liberation Movement "can mobilize 100,000 people to support the military" in addition to its 3,000 troops.
"We are rightists, and we're proud of it," he said. "We'll do what we have to do. We are prepared."