THE ELECTIONS in Guatemala seem to have produced a crop of allegations of fraud. What the elections might have meant even in the absence of such allegations is uncertain. The current president, Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia, has spent four years presiding over the murder, "disappearance," exile or intimidation of the considerable swath of political leaders to his left--literally thousands of people have died, unquestionably most of them by the government's hand or with its tacit encouragement and approval. His policy has been to destroy guerrillas and all others the government regards as connected to them. He has earned his regime a reputation as perhaps the bloodiest in the world, Communists and the occasional Third World crazy aside. Nothing in the record or stance of the likely next president, a general who was until recently minister of defense, augurs change.
The administration hopes the Guatemalan generals can emerge from the elections disinfected and ready, or nearly ready, for American support. The generals lost that support in the Carter years because of their indiscriminate bloodletting. Some American officials suggest that the new president must first demonstrate he can abate the slaughter of civilians. Others do not feel even that demonstration is necessary: elections are enough.
This is, to us, absolutely wrong. The guerrilla forces appear to be growing, and Cuban support may be growing, too. There is a real danger that these forces will continue to exploit the terrible social tensions in the country and eventually help tip the geopolitical balance against the United States. This is precisely the reason to repudiate the generals. They are hopelessly ineffective as instruments of anti-communism, not to speak of social justice. They are the best thing the guerrillas have going for them. In El Salvador the armed forces, or some part of them, are striving to treat civilians better and to support reforms. In Guatemala the armed forces do nothing of the kind.
We do not deny that, at this urgent moment in Central America, it is risky to hold at arm's length an embattled government dedicated to fighting Marxism. Superficially--only superficially--it is inconsistent with American help for the Salvadoran junta. It could give the guerrillas a boost. The guerrillas, though, are coming on strong. They will likely come on stronger, with or without American aid to the government, unless the generals choose to start shifting toward the policies that alone offer a chance of reversing the tide.