U.S. Rewards Guatemala With Military Aid Print
By releasing $3.2 million in aid, the United States is rewarding Guatemala for its progress in overhauling a military once blamed for human rights abuses.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced the U.S. decision on Thursday after meeting with Guatemala's president, Oscar Berger. Since the mid-1990s, the United States has provided Guatemala a relative pittance, with only $350,000 approved for tightly controlled purposes, such as maintaining U.S.-Guatemala contacts in 2005.

The Bush administration is proposing to increase the amount to $900,000 in 2006. The money is intended for uses such as assisting in training and the modernization of Guatemala's armed forces.

Berger, appearing with Rumsfeld at a news conference in the Guatemalan capital, said the human rights abuses committed by his country's military are a thing of the past.

"The shadows that plagued our army have disappeared," Berger said through a translator.

Rumsfeld, saying Central America has reached a "magic moment," said he was satisfied that Guatemala's military was developing toward a force that could assist in peacekeeping operations and cooperate with other militaries in the region.

"I've been impressed by the reforms that have been undertaken in the armed forces," he said. "I know it is a difficult thing to do but it's been done with professionalism and transparency."

Still, the amount of money being provided to Guatemala is less than the millions provided overtly and by the CIA to support repressive right-wing governments in Central America in their wars against leftist guerillas during the past half-century.

In Guatemala, at least 120,000 people disappeared before a peace accord was signed in 1996, 36 years after the civil war began.

Under Berger's administration, the Guatemalan military has decreased in size from 27,000 to 15,000, and is transforming its forces for cooperative peacekeeping missions instead of internal counterguerilla warfare. Berger also has altered some of the laws governing the military and changed the chain of command.

While the Guatemalan government welcomed the U.S. move, officials said they will continue to push for wider latitude in American aid.

"I'm pleased that the United States has been able to release the $3.2 million in military assistance," Defense Minister Carlos Aldana said.

Some $2.2 million of the money will pay for repairing and modernizing Guatemala's air force, which hunts narcotics traffickers. An additional $700,000 is for repairs and radios for Guatemala's small navy; the remaining $300,000 is for communications gear, armored vests, night vision goggles and other equipment for the country's army.

One sign of Guatemala's improved standing, from the U.S. perspective, has been the country's contribution of peacekeepers to the mission in Haiti. Rumsfeld has pushed for more security cooperation between Central American nations despite their history of squabbles and internal strife. Guatemalans have also taken part in several U.N. operations in Africa.

During the 1980s, overt U.S. military aid totaled about $30 million, less than that supplied to the governments of El Salvador and Honduras, which fought similar conflicts.

But the killing of an American innkeeper in 1990 and the subsequent cover-up led Washington to cut off that aid, though millions more kept flowing secretly from the CIA to Guatemala's military commanders until 1995.

The U.S. government has provided only a small amount of security money, some for counternarcotics assistance, to Guatemala. Economic aid, however, has exceeded $100 million a year.

Guatemalans have had continued problems with crime and drug-trafficking. According to the federal attorney general's office, violent crime killed 8,120 people in 2001 and 8,767 in 2002. Some estimates provided by U.S. officials suggest that 80 percent of cocaine intended for the United States passes through Guatemala or its territorial waters.

Associated Press writer Sergio de Leon contributed to this report.