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Candidate Would Give Ex-Dictator Powerful Post Guatemalans Go To Polls In Presidential Runoff Election

On the eve of Guatemala’s presidential run-off, one candidate said Saturday that, if elected president, he would appoint the nation’s former dictator to a new, powerful security post.

Alfonso Portillo, the 44-year-old candidate of the Guatemalan Republican Front, said escalating crime had convinced him of the need for a new National Security Commission.

He said he would name former dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who was blocked from running for the presidency because of his role in a 1982 coup, as head of the commission. That would give Rios Montt more power than the defense minister.

“Gen. Efrain Rios Montt is going to be in charge of the National Security Commission, which will coordinate all of the security forces and professionalize them,” Portillo said.

Portillo spoke with The Associated Press and Guatemalan reporters at his campaign headquarters, in a house adjacent to Rios Montt’s modest home. The retired general was not present.

The runoff takes place today.

The other presidential candidate, Alvaro Arzu of the conservative National Advanced Party, has charged that Portillo would be a mere “puppet” of the former general.

“If we vote for the Guatemalan Republican Front and Rios Montt, we are going to return to the violence of the past and the inept political management of the country,” Arzu said Wednesday in a televised debate.

Arzu, a 49-year-old businessman and former foreign minister, has led in recent polls after easily beating 18 other candidates in a first round Nov. 12. But the polls’ margin of error is almost as great as Arzu’s lead.

The country is completing its third civilian election after a rocky path to democracy: A 1940s experiment with civilian rule was derailed by a U.S.-backed rightist coup in 1954 that ushered in three decades of military control.

Otherwise lackluster campaigning has been marked by charges and countercharges of links between both candidates and military governments of the past.