SUPERFICIALLY, Guatemala looks like your typical Central American disaster area. It's a small, blood-stained country run by a right-wing military dictatorship regarded now as the most repressive in Latin America. American intelligenc quietly confirms Amnesty International's charge that the government runs an immense murder and torture campaign, involving thousands of victims, out of an annex of the National Palace. A Cuban-encouraged guerrilla movement is evidently gaining some ground.
All this is, in a sense, familiar. What makes Guatemala different is that the United Stated does not prop it up. For human rights reasons and cut most military ties. In natinalistic response, President Romeo Lucas Garcia cut the rest. The bloodshed and uncertainity are thinning economic ties. That makes if difficult to blame the United States for President Lucas' atrocities. It also makes it difficutl to supply pressure to make him change in his ways.
The point is perhaps insufficiently appreciated. Gueatemala called the American liberal bluff. It dared the United States to cut it off, and it seems to be surviving the cut. Georgia Anne Geyer has reported that Guatemala Filled the military gap with supplies from elswhere. Worse, she warns, from Argentina the local armed forces are receiving the sort of sustained assistance that may lift Guatemala out of the customary civilian-military cycle and leave it indefinitely in military hands. To the extent this is so, the United States, by cutting Guatemala off, has spared itself a certain taint but has done nothing to alleviate the country's agony or to relieve the political strain. It may even have made things worse.
At the moment the United States is treading water. The American Embassy in Guatemala lacks an ambassador and a purpose; no policy direction is coming out of the State Department; and those of the tip sheets, favor cozying up to anti-communist military regimes -- even this one -- do not seem to have zeroed in on Guatemala. There is no bursting crisis down there, only the kind that builds slowly and surely.
It is a good time, then, to mull over another approach. The time of the liberal squeeze is past. What about a conservative flier? Could the United States conceivable buy lack influence in Guatemala by resuming military contacts? Could the Reagan administration manage to pull off such a gambit without simply becoming partners of Guatemala's gorillas in fighting real or imagined guerrillas? Is there a responsible alternative?