Rodrigo Asturias

Guatemalan guerrilla leader
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The Independent Online

Rodrigo Asturias Amado, guerrilla commander and politician: born Guatemala City 1939; married (two sons); died Guatemala City 15 June 2005.

Rodrigo Asturias was, for many years, better known by his nom de guerre, Gaspar Ilom. He took the name of a character from one of the novels of his father, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Miguel Angel Asturias, and used it during Guatemala's long civil war, which ended in 1996. He then metamorphosed from guerrilla commander into civilian politician, standing unsuccessfully for President in 2003, for a left-wing coalition that had been weakened by feuding among former comrades-in-arms.

Asturias was born in 1939. He took a law degree in Argentina, and after returning to Guatemala he came to the conclusion that only armed struggle could bring change to a country wracked by violence and injustice. His first attempt to form a guerrilla front, in 1962, ended in capture and deportation to Mexico.

He returned home in 1971, and subsequently founded the guerrilla army known as ORPA (Revolutionary Organisation of the People in Arms). In 1980, ORPA joined forces with other armed groups to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union, or URNG, in the belief that just one final push was needed to defeat the Guatemalan army. This turned out to be a mistake: the military hit back, resorting to a ruthless scorched-earth and extermination strategy.

After more than 100,000 people, mainly civilians, had died or disappeared, the two sides eventually began peace talks in Madrid in 1987. They culminated, in 1996, in a series of accords, of which Asturias, as a member of the URNG high command, was a signatory. The former guerrillas turned the URNG into a political party, but it never succeeded in making much impact on the political scene. Asturias attracted less than 3 per cent of the vote when he stood for President in 2003.

Colin Harding

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