Friday, September 13, 2013

VOXXI: Guatemala plays a key role on the Syria crisis

Guatemala plays a key role on the Syria Crisis
W. Alejandro Sanchez
September 13, 2013
Originally published:

As the possibility of a military intervention by the U.S. against the Assad regime in Syria seems to have been put on hold, the Syrian civil war has entered a bizarre status quo.
The conflict within Syria continues, but the international community is generally opposed to a (U.S-led) military operation against Assad’s forces.
One of the few countries in the Western Hemisphere that has declared its support for this option is Guatemala, one of two rotating members representing Latin America and the Caribbean (the other being Argentina) at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
The Eternal U.S. Ally?
So far, the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Guatemalan delegation to the United Nations have made standard diplomatic statements, though they have come out in favor of sanctions and a possible military intervention spearheaded by Washington.
For example, back in July 2012, Guatemala voted in favor of a UNSC resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syria. Moreover, an undated press release by the Guatemalan delegation to the United Nations highlights how it has voted in favor of resolutions in the UN’s General Assembly (A/66/253A, A/66/253B, A/66/176 and A/67/183) lamenting the loss of life and calling for negotiations.
The Guatemalan government took a stronger stance after August 21, following revelations that the Syrian government had utilized chemical weapons, namely sarin gas, against civilians. Some 1,500 individuals were killed in a Damascus suburb as a result of this attack.
After the alleged chemical attack took place, the Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Ministry released a statement calling for an investigation of the incident.

 Syria crisis

In traditional diplomatic parlance, the Ministry explained that: “Guatemala calls for all sides involved in the conflict in Syria to facilitate and guarantee the access of UN investigators to the area where events took place […]” More controversially, the Guatemalan government declared its support for a possible U.S. military intervention in the country.
A late August statement explains that “the government of Guatemala fully supports the call [by the U.S.] for the international community to not cross its arms in the face of these deplorable events.”
Shortly after, on September 1st, President Otto Pérez Molina expressed his support for President Obama’s intention to carry out a military operation in Syria.
According to media reports, the Guatemalan leader stated that “we [Guatemala] clearly and definitely support the decision that the U.S. President has taken so that chemical weapons will not be utilized again, which cause mass deaths. That is Guatemala’s position.”
A Brief Overview of U.S. – Guatemala Relations
Arguably, Guatemala’s stance supporting a U.S. military initiative in the UNSC stems from the country’s desire to remain on good terms with Washington.
Exemplifying this is a June 2013 meeting of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, in which Guatemalan President Perez Molina met with Secretary John Kerry.
During the high-level assembly, the Guatemalan leader expressed to the senior U.S. official his aspiration to see his Central American nation join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Moreover, a May 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service entitled Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations discusses U.S. aid to Guatemala.
The report explains that the Central American state received $110 millionin the Fiscal Year 2011, which decreased to an estimated $95 million in the FY2012.
The report adds that, “The Perez Molina Administration, like previous Guatemalan administration, has been pressing the United States to drop those conditions and provide increased military aid to the army.”Current U.S. military aid is centered on counternarcotics programs.
It is important to explain how a diplomatic stance regarding a military intervention in Syria is perceived through geopolitical eyes. Does the fact that Guatemala’s President Perez Molina is in favor of a U.S. military strike signify that the country remains under Washington’s sphere of influence?
Furthermore, to what extent has the Guatemalan government considered the unforeseen effects of a military strike against the Syrian government before its declarations supporting intervention?
The call to arms against the Syrian government by the Guatemalan government should be placed in a historical context. Namely, the situation in Syria can be compared to that Central American country’s own bloody civil war (1960-1966), between the government and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URGN).
The Guatemalan internal conflict was particularly violent, claiming over 200,000 lives, and became known for crimes such as the 1978 Panzos massacre. Given this recent history, a pro-military stance in Syria goes along quite well with Guatemala’s tendency to resort to violence to solve security problems.
Representing Who?
Agreeing to a military intervention is not an easy thing for any government to do. And of course, there is a difference between a country having the right to declare that an intervention is necessary and actually voting in favor one of in a forum like the UNSC, as well as participating in it.
The Guatemalan government has a right to declare that a military intervention in Syria (against the Assad regime) is necessary.
Nevertheless, it should be stressed that Guatemala’s stance in the UNSC goes against the positions vis-à-vis Syria of most of the Western Hemisphere.
Recent declarations by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) highlight that most Western Hemisphere governments are against a new U.S.-led military operation.
One can only hope that Guatemala’s diplomatic stances in the UNSC regarding Syria has been reached after a lengthy and rational debate regarding moral obligations and national interests in Guatemala City.

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