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Cablegate: Guatemalan Views On Iraq Situation

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS GUATEMALA 000723

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV IZ GT
SUBJECT: GUATEMALAN VIEWS ON IRAQ SITUATION

REF: GUATEMALA 708

1. (U) Summary. President Portillo told reporters on March 18
that Guatemala "stands beside the United States," but said
Guatemala does not take a position for or against war with
Iraq. He added that he sent a letter of support to President
Bush (reftel). According to the MFA, the GOG delegation to
the Roatan Centam Presidential Summit reportedly had
instructions to sign a joint statement on Iraq, but it failed
to achieve consensus. Some opposition party leaders have
expressed strong support for the U.S. while others have
expressed concern over economic fallout due to rising energy
prices. Guatemalan public opinion is divided on Iraq. End
Summary.

2. (U) Speaking in his home town of Zacapa, President Alfonso
Portillo told reporters that Guatemala has not taken a
position on hostilities with Iraq. However, he stressed that
in this delicate time Guatemala "will stand with its ally,
the United States." Portillo dodged questions about possible
economic repercussions for Guatemala of any military action
in Iraq. He said that although the international situation
is "grave," Guatemala understands the responsibility of the
U.S. to respond to it. Portillo described his recent letter
to President Bush (reftel) as a further example of his
support and told the crowd the letter was intended to
"encourage U.S. authorities because they are living through
difficult moments." Political cartoons lampooned Portillo's
indecision on the potential hostilities, depicting him as a
chicken buffeted by the winds of war but insisting that "we
are not for or against, in fact just the opposite..."

3. (SBU) Deputy Foreign Minister Abiu told us on March 19
that Guatemala had instructed its representatives at the
Centam presidential summit in Roatan, Honduras, to sign a
Central American Summit statement on Iraq. He said that
there had been no consensus on the statement, however, and
said ultimately the statement was withdrawn. He said that
President Portillo's statement was intended to make clear
that, without taking a position for or against hostilities,
the GOG will stand by the United States.

4. (U) Opposition party leaders have publicly and privately
expressed a wide range of reactions to events in the Persian
Gulf. Some have strongly endorsed U.S. military action,
while others have limited themselves to expressing concern
over the potential of economic consequences to Guatemala of
any war.

5. (U) Public opinion appears divided. There have been a
number of small, peaceful demonstrations outside the Embassy
in recent weeks against the possibility of war in Iraq. The
demonstrators tend to be student or religious groups and have
not attracted large numbers of protesters. Despite fairly
regular press coverage implying that Guatemala will suffer
from higher energy prices and reduced tourism, most average
Guatemalans are more concerned with daily problems than with
events in the Middle East. The media has also devoted
detailed coverage to the 860 active duty and 650 reservists
of Guatemalan origin who are currently serving with the U.S.
military, reporting in some cases anxiety about the
possibility of war and in others, patriotic pride in serving
their adopted country.

6 (SBU) Comment: We see Portillo's statement as trying to
have it both ways.
HAMILTON

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