The Sunday morning rally of about 500 residents of this village began as soon as the engines of the two Guatemalan Army helicopters were turned off.
Francisco Bache, a weekend preacher in the fundamentalist Assembly of God church, easily combined a message of God and country in a rousing sermon that ended with a group of villagers ecstatically "speaking in tongues."
"He who resists authority is resisting that which has been established by God," Bache said. "He who lacks God in his heart is the one who is unable to love the authorities."
Signs held by people in the crowd on the village soccer field said, "The civil patrols need good weapons for their defense." Bache was followed to the microphone by the Army lieutenant in charge of the nearby Chiul firebase, where 60 soldiers are entrenched as an advance force in an area where less than a year ago guerrillas roamed freely in and out of villages.
An Army captain proclaimed the "union" of the Army, religion and the "authorities of the state."
The rally, visited unannounced by three foreign reporters, was organized by the Army to push the Guatemalan government's latest strategy to win its long war against leftist insurgents. Last month, the government announced that the Army would create hundreds of local "civil defense" patrols to guard villages in areas of guerrilla activity.
The program, called "guns and beans," also includes putting Indians to work on highway projects in exchange for food parcels and a small wage, Army officials said.
The program is a key element in plans by Guatemala's new President Efrain Rios Montt to stamp out the insurgency that in recent years has gained momentum and virtually eliminated the once-booming tourist trade in this scenic Quiche Province. In an interview, Rios Montt said he expected to defeat the guerrillas "by December."
The plan appears to include the kind of aggressive counterinsurgency tactics and social action programs recommended by the United States for other countries, such as El Salvador, in fighting leftist guerrillas.
Guerrilla groups have been fighting various Guatemalan governments since the early l960s. The largest and historically the most prosperous country in Central America, Guatemala is considered particularly important to the United States because of its known oil reserves and its northern border with Mexico.
Moderate political leaders and Catholic clergymen say they fear the civil defense program will increase the level of violence here by forcing villagers to take sides in the civil war. Foreign diplomats and human rights groups estimate that thousands of persons have been killed in political violence here in the past two years.
Two Catholic religious workers suggested that the promotion of the civil defense program through Protestant preachers could cause religious competition and tear apart the fabric of traditional strong community life in the mainly Indian villages in the northwestern region of Guatemala. Guatemala, like most Latin American countries, is predominantly Roman Catholic, but Protestant fundamentalist groups, many with home bases in the United States, have established a growing number of adherents. While the Roman Catholic missionaries often have focused on raising peasants' consciousness on social problems and establishing peasant cooperatives, the fundamentalists' message has tended to support authoritarian governments and to be more strongly anticommunist.
Critics of the civil defense plan who live in the northern villages of Quiche and Huehuetenango provinces said recruitment to the civil defense units is often by coercion, and charged that the Army continues to kill civilians in sweeps through villages identified as hostile.
The Army arrived in force in this area about eight months ago, when a large base was set up outside the provincial capital Santa Cruz del Quiche. Just a year ago, according to residents of this town, Guerrilla Army of the Poor forces briefly occupied Cunen for the first time and returned several times after that.
"Before, we gave the guerrillas freedom of action here," Army Capt. Mario Lopez said. "Now we are the ones with freedom of action."
After a June lull during which the government offered the guerrillas amnesty if they would lay down their arms, fighting between the approximately 5,000 guerrillas and the Guatemalan Army has heated up. During the one-day visit to Santa Cruz base, Chiul and Cunen, Army officers reported that two helicopters had been forced down by enemy fire, but were repaired.
Late in the day, officers mustered a force of about 80 fully equipped soldiers--including about 20 dressed in civilian clothes--to clean out a reported guerrilla occupation of the village of Rancho de Teja, an hour's truck ride to the north.
A Western diplomat said the Army claimed to have killed 180 guerrillas in fighting in the first week of July.
On the road from Chichicastenango, an Indian market town and tourist center south of here, to Santa Cruz del Quiche, Army troops have cut down a swath of trees along the winding mountain road to prevent guerrilla ambushes.
Army Capt. Mario Lopez said the new Army strategy was to set up the civil defense patrols as an advance guard against the guerrillas. The Army, he said, moves out in force to attack when reports are received from local patrols of guerrillas in their area.
Lopez said support for the program was tremendous, pointing to the crowd at the Cunen rally and the signs asking for better weapons. The guerrillas, he said, had begun out of desperation to burn villages and kill women and children in an attempt to discredit the Army.
Three clergymen working in the northern Quiche and Huehuetenango provinces, however, gave a sharply different picture of how the civil defense program was implemented in their areas.
In Quiche Province, a teacher said students returning to a boarding school from home visits said they had been forced to patrol their town armed only with whistles and sticks, with soldiers stationed in front and behind them.
"They don't trust these people at all. They don't trust a real Indian village with weapons," a foreigner living in Huehuetenango said.
According to a foreigner living in Huehuetenango, an Army patrol came into a town about the size of Cunen July 2 and read a list of 40 persons who were ordered to report for civil defense duty. Ten persons showed up in the town square, the source said, and were driven off in an Army truck for what the soldiers said would be "training."
A few days later, the bodies of the 10 men were found along the road with with their throats cut. The source, who knows the town well, said at least three of the 10 had helped guerrillas set up a food distribution system, and he speculated that the killings were a "terror tactic" by the Army.
He and two clergymen from Quiche described a similar pattern of military activity that they said accompanied the installation of the civil defense system. They said several villages in their areas--one with 3,000 people--were abandoned by their inhabitants after Army troops attacked.
Infantry soldiers, in a taped interview during the Cunen rally, had high praise for the civil defense system.
"They come in and tell us where the guerrillas are," one said.
Three soldiers were asked how they were instructed to act when they raid a village suspected of harboring guerrillas if women and children are present.
"When there is a battle, we shoot at everybody alike, even though they don't have uniforms," one said. "Sometimes there are people dressed as civilians who are armed. Practically all of them are guerrillas, . . . so the order is to attack everybody alike."
A priest who has lived in the same village for more than 20 years said the new government strategy using village guards and religious divisions will "shatter" the strong Indian community tradition.