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The Guatemalan Military Since the Peace Accords: The Fate of Reform Under Arzú and Portillo

  • J. Mark Ruhl (a1)


The Guatemalan military dominated the country's politics for nearly half a century, but its political power declined during the 1990s. Democratically elected presidents Alvaro Arzú (1996–2000) and Alfonso Portillo (2000–2004) subordinated the armed forces to their authority and thereby gained an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the role of the military and institutionalize democratic civil-military relations. Unfortunately, neither of these tasks was accomplished. An analysis of the level of democratic control, combining Alfred Stepan's military prerogatives indicators with a newer system of measurement and classification designed by Samuel Fitch, shows that the armed forces retained substantial institutional autonomy and de facto legal immunity when Portillo left office in 2004. The role of the military in Guatemalan society, moreover, expanded again under Portillo after declining under Arzú. This study finds that the lack of sufficient civilian commitment to reform, rather than resistance from the armed forces, was the principal cause of these disappointing outcomes.



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