Back in Guatemala City, the morning newspapers were describing a big battle in which the Army had succeeded in driving off an attack by 200 guerrillas on this picturesque little provincial capital overlooking volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan.
But here in the town--a haphazard sprawl of pastel adobe houses surrounding a shabby central square--"the attack" is mentioned with a resigned shrug.
The engagement, it turns out, was only a guerrilla probe on the city's outskirts, a brief rattle of gunfire heard in the evening air rather than anything seen or suffered by the town's inhabitants. If there was no attack this week, few doubted there would be one some other day soon.
"Oh yes, armed subversives came to the edge of town last night," said a gap-toothed national policeman lounging on the veranda of his headquarters and fondling a .30-caliber carbine. "We could say we killed a hundred of them," he laughed, "but in fact no one was hurt--on their side or ours."
However small the engagement, the guerrillas' sudden reappearance on the periphery of Solola after an absence of months is taken as proof that--despite an energetic six-month antiguerrilla pacification campaign by the Guatemalan Army--the left-wing insurgency in the province of the same name is alive and well.
It also suggests that little change may occur with the expected election of Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara to the presidency. He was the front-runner in last Sunday's election. Few here expect the change of presidents to soften the resolve with which the guerrillas have been warring on the outgoing president, Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia.
Despite Gen. Guevara's campaign promises of social and political reforms, he remains the official choice of the Guatemalan armed forces--who have been the political arbiters since coming to power in 1954 as a result of the CIA-engineered overthrow of leftist president Jacobo Arbenz.
Guevara's promise of "a new era" is seen here by the few willing to discuss it as another mask for more governmental intolerance and inequity. Analysts tend to agree that today's increasingly bitter revolt is the consequence of that past. Estimates of lives lost last year run as high as 11,000.
The last time the guerrillas had come to Solola was Oct. 28, when they stormed and occupied it for a full day. The town's population was assembled in a central square, where guerrilla leaders using hand-held loudspeakers lectured them on the revolution's aims and criticized the government.
That time, before leaving town in advance of the arrival of government troops, the self-styled Guerrilla Army of the Poor put the province's unpopular governor against a wall and executed him as a symbol of repression under the Lucas government.
The significance of the October raid and this week's new guerrilla movements outside Solola is that this province has never been a bastion of guerrilla strength on a par with the isolated and underdeveloped Indian highland provinces of Quiche and Huehuetenango, where half of Guatemala's Army of 22,000 is bogged down in pacification and search-and-destroy operations.
Lake Atitlan was the center of a thriving tourist industry that, until the insurgency frightened visitors away, was the country's third-largest source of foreign exchange. The brief boom had even trickled down benefits to the province's impoverished Indian population. Half the country's 7.2 million people are descended from the ancient Mayans.
Tourists at the lake's modern hotels spent dollars in its neighboring Indian markets, softening local resentment against the official government indifference to the lot of the Indians.
The traditional apolitical nature of the Indians of Atitlan and their fleeting prosperity was not enough to ensure their isolation from the angry violence that has now come to haunt Guatemala.
As in virtually every other town in the country, a war has raged here against those who show leadership potential in their communities--teachers, professors, labor or cooperative organizers, public officials, even priests.
The towns around Lake Atitlan have lost dozens of their best and brightest, gunned down by unnamed assailants or taken away never to reappear again.
In the village of Santiago, the death of the Rev. Stanley Rother, of Okarche, Okla., last summer followed 31 killings or disappearances since 1980. The government has shown no sign of seriously investigating the priest's death.
Deaths of civil officials, government workers and policemen generally are attributable to the guerrillas. The rest, which make up a large majority of the civilian dead, are attributed by the knowledgeable here to so-called "death squads," which are generally believed to be paramilitary gangs of thugs working with or often for the government.
Although terror, official or unofficial, has been wielded to intimidate, it appears to have polarized the countryside, making reconciliation unlikely.
A religious worker in this province who has occasionally come into contact with the guerrilla bands, often 200 strong in the forests, shrugs off Gen. Guevara's vague talk about an amnesty for the guerrillas as a means of convincing them to lay down their arms.
A believer in nonviolence, the religious worker told of trying to convince a guerrilla leader to renounce armed struggle in favor of peaceful political and social action.
"I watched them kill my wife in her bed," the guerrilla chieftain was quoted as responding. "I'm staying out there."
"That is a story that could be repeated a thousand times over," the religious worker said. "That is why most of them are out there, not at all for all the political reasons attributed to them. If the government killed all 4,000 of the guerrillas estimated to be fighting, there would be another 4,000 taking up arms tomorrow."
In Solola City itself, the clouds of war today hang as heavily as those that hide the cone of Atitlan Volcano across the lake.
The market where tourists once crowded to buy hand-woven embroidered shirts and ponchos is almost deserted--as are the city streets. The police station has been reinforced by 60 soldiers, many as young as 16.
The guerrillas block the roads out of the city almost every night by felling giant trees. Buses to the capital, 80 miles away, are routinely halted and burned, their passengers left to make their way home on foot.
The Army, stretched thin by outbreaks of guerrilla activity that have now appeared in virtually all of Guatemala's 22 provinces, seems able to keep track of only the most audacious guerrilla moves.