There are two diametrically different ways of looking at the geopolitical state of play in Guatemala. One is Al Haig's, from the high ground of the State Department's 7th floor.
The other comes from Father Fernando Lopez, a 47-year-old Catholic priest who fled Guatemala last year when his name showed up on the published death lists of government "paramilitary units." Originally from Spain, Lopez lived in Guatemala for 21 years; at the end, he was part of a 10-member team, including teachers and social workers, tending to peasants in a northwestern province on the Mexican border.
Of the 10, he reported in an interview here the other day, eight are dead at the hands of Guatemalan government "security forces" and the ninth, at last word, had gone underground. He speaks, volubly, of government repression and wholesale murder of opposition political leaders, trade unionists, lawyers, journalists and priests-- anybody suspected of sympathy or association with a rising anti-government guerrilla movement in the countryside.
The secretary of state, in a classified "background paper" circulated to American diplomatic missions worldwide, speaks with comparable conviction of a Guatemala whose only problem is "extremist groups" using "terrorist methods"; their support and encouragement from Cuba's Fidel Castro has been "stepped up significantly."
Haig's "confidential" recounting of Cuban "covert activities" in Latin America has been updated at least once since it was originally dispatched in October. American diplomats at the United Nations, throughout Latin America and in 24 allied countries were instructed to talk it up with officials of their host government (without showing the full text).
So what we have here is two people, of rather different stations and perspectives, speaking with some considerable knowledge and authority of the same situation in a way that presents us with two totally different Guatemalas. What are we to make of it?
In a word, a mess. It is not yet quite comparable to the mess in El Salvador, if only because the American involvement on behalf of the ruling authorities in Guatemala remains modest by comparison to the U.S. military mission in El Salvador. But it is moving in that direction with the Reagan administration's resumption this year of military assistance to the tune of $3.2 million for jeeps and trucks.
If you accept the Haig/Reagan domino theory in Central America, the administration's blind eye to anything but Marxist-Leninist left-wing insurgency inspired by Cuba and the Soviets is understandable in Guatemala. The parish where Father Lopez worked, by happenstance, is 100 miles from critical Mexican oil fields. Guatemala is only one domino away from the ultimate domino, Mexico; topple it and, by Haig/Reagan reasoning, you scarcely have to worry about El Salvador.
This no doubt explains why the Mexicans are cool to the Guatemalan insurgency, while showing all sorts of sympathy to the leftists in El Salvador. Perhaps sheer proximity concentrates the mind. But it is equally possible that it causes principle--and sound policy--to give way to shortsighted expediency.
Guatemala and El Salvador are in significant ways indistinguishable. Both have repressive governments. Both resort to "death squads" and other forms of repression to terrorize the opposition. Both are headed for elections next March that give every promise of perpetuating the status quo: chronic violence and gross social inequity; incitement to widening insurgency born of simple desperation; and choice opportunities for communist exploitation of popular grievances, at low cost.
Father Lopez concedes the communist contribution to instability. Understandably, he does not have Haig's larger picture of it--the type of arms involved, the alleged rate of arms flow, the grand Cuban-Soviet conspiracy. What he sees is a pattern of government repression against the peasantry, abject poverty and hunger, agrarian "reform" designed not to feed peasants, but to promote cash crops for export. He sees Mayan Indians fleeing to Mexico or into the hills to join the guerrillas. He sees terrorized 12-year- olds taking up guns.
What he sees, in other words, are government activities promoting insurgency. "The present government has blocked every avenue except the Popular Army," he declares. A cutoff of American aid, he insists, would bring a democratic coalition government to power, with broad support, "in three years."
If even half of what he says is so, then what he cannot see from his vantage point is not nearly as important as what the Reagan administration cannot seem to see. There is a telling paragraph in the Haig "confidential" cable to American envoys abroad:
"This study does not attempt to explain why violent indigenous movements may develop, nor does it attempt to explain why militant radicals who are self-proclaimed nationalists accept foreign guidance and assistance as readily as the evidence suggests."
One wonders why that other half of the story wasn't passed along to America's allies.