Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 338 | Septiembre 2009



The Failed Conspiracy And the Chávez Factor

Chávez’s shadow terrorizes Central America’s Right. In democracies as fragile as ours, his influence was a perfect pretext for Honduras’ military coup, just as for the failed technical coup in Guatemala. In addition, Chavism can manipulate some on the left into being more radical, increasingly polarizing our societies and leaving no middle ground in which to build alternatives to secure the future.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

Three months ago in these pages we tried to find the thread leading us out of the labyrinth in which Guatemala had lost itself with the murder of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg and release of a video in which he blamed his murder on President Alvaro Colom; First Lady Sandra Torres, who is also the government’s commissioner for social cohesion; Gustavo Alejas, the President’s private secretary; and various businessmen and bankers.

A technical coup d’état?

Now that time has passed it’s seeming quite probable that a conspiracy was woven around this unfortunate crime in order to force the President to resign or be impeached, and to remove his wife from the political scene as a probable candidate for the presidency in 2012. The abundant correspondence between Rosenberg and Marjorie Mussa that has come to light, documenting their love affair, makes it more likely that her murder would have produced an emotional breakdown in a man who had already experienced difficult psychiatric situations.

So we’re probably looking at a conspiracy aimed at staging a technical coup d’état slightly more than a month before the military one later perpetrated in Honduras. It’s terrible to find ourselves in the position of thinking that the plotters didn’t stop themselves taking advantage of a possible murder, using Rosenberg’s anguish to suggest he turn what perhaps at that moment were only his suspicions into a formal accusation. Statements by Luis Mendizábal, ex-head of a clandestine intelligence unit at the service of the former presidential chief of staff, and the one who distributed copies of the video during Rosenberg’s funeral, don’t help absolve him of taking part in such a conspiracy. Mendizábal has stated that he has no reason to regret his erstwhile involvement in coup attempts in 1988 and 1989 during Vinicio Cereza’s presidency, after then-Finance Minister Carlos Páiz proposed the farthest reaching fiscal reform ever drafted in Guatemala. While Congress never passed that reform due to the revolt of big private enterprise, the great paradox is that Páiz was himself in big business.

Only the results of the criminal investigations being conducted jointly by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Attorney General’s Office will provide us with firm grounds on which to sustain what at the moment seems only probable. In this context we’ve heard that President Colom continues to watch the Rosenberg video from time to time so as not to forget the Damocles sword hanging over his head as long as the Rosenberg brief remains a secret.

Against organized crime

The CICIG’s commissioner, Spanish judge Carlos Castresana, traveled to New York to meet personally with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. During this visit Castresana completely dispelled doubts as to whether the UN would continue its unwavering support of his mission. This support explains his continued firmness in his work on various crucial investigations, among others the case of former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, currently released on bail.

Under Castresana’s leadership the CICIG has also been involved in identifying legal aspects and defining regulations to improve the protection of human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. And it has concerned itself with other issues assumed to be procedures favoring impunity. According to the CICIG itself, these have to do with legislative reforms in all the following areas: penal competence in high risk cases, effective cooperation for witnesses needing protection, and “protection, indictment, illegal arms, and munitions trafficking, anti-corruption, people trafficking, illegal immigrant trafficking, disciplinary regimes in criminal justice, international legal cooperation, extradition and legal assistance.”

All these proposals are basically aimed at trying to improve Guatemala’s justice system and making progress in their mission of “supporting the State in breaking up illegal bodies and clandestine security setups by encouraging and promoting more efficient and effective action, particularly by the Public Ministry, in the penal process and above all in serious criminal cases and those with a high social impact.” The performance of the CICIG, a valuable legacy from the previous presidency, supported especially by then Vice President Eduardo Stein, is a promising factor in the no man’s land between justice and impunity. While public opinion wonders when it will see the first oral trial to seal the process in one of these cases, one could reply that a slow but well-investigated case is better than one slapped together in a hurry.

Why did this coup fail?

Let’s return to what is assumed to be an attempt at a technical coup. The probable objective, well publicized by the loser of the last elections, General Otto Pérez Molina, was to force both the President and the First Lady to resign, or at least be temporarily suspended from their duties while being subjected to an indictment from the pressure of Rosenberg’s accusations and the “white” marches. The idea was for the executive role to be carried out in the meantime by the Vice President, eminent heart surgeon Rafael Espada.

None of this came to pass. First, Rosenberg didn’t back up his videotaped accusations with any evidence. Second, Congress didn’t push for an indictment, the Vice President didn’t stop supporting the President and obviously the President demanded proof. Third, the white marches, principally of young people in the capital’s parks and squares, were peacefully opposed by “green” ones, originating in the country’s interior, mainly indigenous areas where Colom won a huge number of votes that for the first time acted as a counterweight to the votes of the capital, and in the marginalized shanty towns where the First Lady’s social cohesion work has been felt. Fourth, those in the white marches got bored relatively quickly of sharing the streets with the “unclean” opposition marchers (some threw perfume or lotion at them when they crossed paths) and “bread liners” (some threw bank notes at them). They didn’t look willing to take to the streets for two and a half years, the rest of Colom’s presidential period. And fifth but not least, the CICIG immediately took charge of the Rosenberg case, cooperating with the Public Ministry. After making a wrong move by meeting alone with the attorney general, the President grasped the seriousness of the situation and offered the CICIG absolute cooperation and zero interference.

Sandra Torres:
Motive for the conspiracy

It’s impossible not to ask about motives for the presumed conspiracy. In these times of the global crisis that’s hitting Guatemala and the rest of Central America so hard, a few “social cohesion” policies can’t help but be received by the numerous poor and miserable inhabitants of this country like May rains falling on the crops. Despite the murky accounting practices attributed to “My family progresses” and “Solidarity sack,” these programs are somehow attempting to resolve the notable drop in remittances (estimated at 12% of the year-on-year amount from 2008-2009) and the corresponding drop in domestic consumption and commerce, both legal and black market. Declaring his presidency to be “social democratic” and to follow the political programs of his assassinated uncle, Manuel Colom Argueta, Colom has come dangerously close to the limits of the Guatemalan elite’s tolerance. That he could be succeeded by his wife Sandra Torres might have been the last straw, particularly if, as is rumored, the opinion polls on voter intention favor her.

Nobody with a modicum of intelligence and some knowledge of the extremes of poverty in Guatemala in these times of global crisis and unpredictable climate, with the return of the El Niño current and drought, could abhor the My Family Is Progressing program. What is unacceptable is the lack of transparent bookkeeping. It would be even more unacceptable if, behind that lack of transparency a private stash is being created for the First Lady’s hypothetical future election campaign, an accusation doing the rounds of the country. It’s a charge that could very easily be dismissed simply by opening up the Social Cohesion accounts and, more to the point, those of My Family Is Progressing or Accessible School.

Nor would it be acceptable if these social assistance programs, in the case of education combined with some initial attempt at structural reform, were used in a discriminatory way, favoring some regions of the country over others—in line with electoral calculations, for example.

A press release from the Association of Domestic and Maquila Workers criticized President Colom for denying there’s starvation in Guatemala, demanded that the destination of the “Solidarity Sack” be made transparent and equitable and that the workers’ point of view should be given preference in the forthcoming Parity Commission negotiations (involving bosses, workers and the State) to determine both rural and urban minimum wages. It’s impossible not to go hungry in this country on less than 100 quetzals a day (roughly $12.23) without completely disregarding other items in the basic vital elements basket: clothing and footwear, electricity, gas, water, schooling, etc. The National Institute of Statistics (INE) calculated the cost of the basic food basket and the vital elements basket for 2008 at 65.35 and 119.26 quetzals a day, respectively.

The intransigent elites

One would have thought that the Central American wars of the eighties might have left some minimal social conscience in the elites and a sizeable part of the population; a certain tolerance level; an understanding, of course accepted in differing degrees, that the benefits of advancing development in our countries must be distributed somehow; that extreme economic and social inequalities are a breeding ground for violence; that without a minimum of consensus, peace and stability there is no development; that violence harms us all; and that up to now elections are the only civilized alternative for deciding which force, party or person will govern. Unfortunately, however, we haven’t reached this sort of political wisdom. While our elites might have technologically modernized their ways of investing and earning money and even incorporated themselves into the global trans-nationalization of capital, they remain immersed in the conservative political culture of the old landowner class. This gives rise to their intolerance and makes their support for democracy schizophrenic. The cure they see for their ailment is to abandon their adhesion to democracy.

A politically primitive culture

The rulers, who usually come from these elites or are rebellious members of parliamentary, academic or military state bureaucracies, haven’t been up to representative democracy, which requires transparency, honesty and competence, since incompetence is the “mother of all corruption.” Central America’s political culture is primitive and as soon as one comes by power, the trick is not to govern but rather, as Karl Marx would say, to “accumulate primitively” and endeavor at any price to hold on to this advantageous position indefinitely. In the July 12 edition of El Periódico,Edelberto Torres Rivas wrote a perceptive article on the coup in Honduras titled “Democracies can rot too”: “The democratic State works well if those who run it have democratic convictions and are competent in administering public affairs,” he says. It’s our misfortune that those who lead us don’t for the most part appear to possess these two characteristics.

A sign of political incompetence

In terms of the competence needed for organizing citizen security, guaranteeing peace in a society permeated with a culture of violence as Guatemala’s has been since the times of the Conquest and reinforced with organized crime’s extreme brutality after 36 years of internal armed conflict, President Colom’s greatest incompetence was not daring to ratify Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte, President Oscar Berger’s last government minister, in her post. Under her and her team, the policy of fighting citizen insecurity and turning around the National Civil Police (PNC) had started down the right road.

Colom at least originally appointed as his government minister a deputy minister on Torrebiarte’s team, Vinicio Gómez, who unfortunately died in an accident six months later. His successor, Francisco Jiménez, is more of a security intellectual than an executive minister and the President, in his impatience for results, removed Jiménez at the beginning of 2008, the end of his first year as President. He instead assigned him the task of perfecting the design of a special PNC department of criminal investigation. In Jiménez’s place Colom appointed a deputy government minister from Arzú’s time, Villanueva Mayor Salvador Gándara, known as a “social cleansing” organizer, particularly of street children. This man surrounded himself in the PNC upper echelons with real bad guys. Less than six months later, Colom dispensed with Gándara and named Raúl Velásquez, a lawyer of Christian Democratic origins who seems to have either knowingly or unknowingly chosen as his advisers people with a reputation for corruption. Gándara has gone back to the town hall to which he was elected.

So not counting the minister who died, the Government Ministry has changed hands three times. That’s how it was in Berger’s Presidency and there was even more shuffling in Portillo’s. Of the last four Presidencies only ex-President Arzú kept one person in the post during his four years at the head of the executive branch.

Fragile democratic convictions

With regard to democratic conviction, the hypothesis of the failed conspiracy to effect a technical coup d’état in Guatemala enlightens us about what Edelberto Torres Rivas calls the “state of permanent transition” in which our States are found, “since the verdict of institutional instability is essentially transitory.” This is what the coup in Honduras has shown us and what the attempted coup in Guatemala would probably have shown us.

In Honduras the coup was conducted in the crudest way possible given that the army was allowed to intervene and remove the President from the country, thereby invoking the old banana republics’ martial and dictatorial spirits. In November 2008 in Nicaragua, the FSLN implemented a “coup” of sorts against the municipal powers with an electoral fraud in the purest Somocista style. State powers completely under the sway of an inter-party pact benefiting only those parties and the appearance of party shock troops ready to break as many heads of the multi-colored opposition demonstrators and protesters as necessary. In Venezuela it was done with decrees for repeated referendums until Chávez got the result he wanted and subsequently persecuted the elected opposition leaders or invented government structures to replace those institutionalized in the municipalities by the electoral will of the majority. In Guatemala everything was going to be done in the most legal way, putting the President’s back against the wall with the alleged commission of a horrendous crime.

What is really failing is the growth of democracy. A great danger is that the governments that wish to perpetuate themselves in power to continue fighting drug traffickers—guerrillas or otherwise—with an iron fist will take the route of a military alliance with the US, as in the example of Colombia’s President Uribe. His ambition for perpetuation is neither discussed nor publicized in Central America by capitalism’s defenders or those on the right of the political class.

Another danger we can see clearly in Ortega’s Nicaragua, occasionally in Chavez’s Venezuela and right now in overtaken Honduras is that governments lean toward a policy of social brigandage, firing up the masses with short-term populism or anti-Yankeeism. They grease these people’s palms with social gifts not accompanied by productive, reproductive or re-distributive structural measures, which will only amount to bread today and hunger tomorrow, especially if they depend on something as volatile as the price of oil or are as thinly distributed as the highly technological capacity to exploit crude reserves such as those in Venezuela’s Orinoco or the Gulf of Mexico or those they say lie under Honduran maritime waters.

Chávez’s terrorizing shadow

Chávez’s shadow terrorizes our economic and political Right and even some of the most globalized transnationals. In Central America perhaps only the capital of the Pellas family group, possibly the most powerful Central American transnational, is enduring the storm in Nicaragua without stridency. And this despite President Ortega’s full entry into the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). In Honduras President Zelaya joined the same initiative, albeit with less consistency and coherence. President Colom got just close enough to President Chávez to join Petrocaribe, without asking to join ALBA. Nonetheless, his wife’s activities at the head of Social Cohesion made the Right very nervous, particularly given the forecast of her possible candidacy in 2011, which could overshadow all other presidential hopefuls: General Otto Pérez Molina of
the Patriot Party, Alejandro Giammattei of the Grand National Alliance, Rigoberta Menchú, who will probably make another attempt with the symbolism of the year 2012, and Mario Estrada, behind whose candidacy former President Alfonso Portillo, with his shady links to organized crime, is rumored to be hiding. Sandra Torres in the Presidency, inclined to work in solidarity with the impoverished masses, could sign up with ALBA more easily than Colom.

Some parties on the left believe Chávez to be a real socialist who gives renewed vigor to the hopes that, notwithstanding Berlin 1989 and Moscow 1991, a renewed socialism might be possible in 21st century Latin America, not just a social democracy somewhere between neoliberal and neo-Keynesian. Furthermore Chávez frankly and undiplomatically says things more than a few would like to say to the annoying neighbor in the North, which remains trapped by a Pentagon mentality, despite Obama.

For others on the left, Chavez is a “broadsword,” as we say in Guatemala and El Salvador, a man only playing at being Bolívar or Fidel Castro or a leader of that ilk, but who, in their view, thinks like a soldier and shows a clear tendency towards territorially expanding his influence. His goal is to control power, to which end he needs a greater “arena,” along the lines of the “vital space” demanded by Hitler. They see him as trying to involve the greatest number of Latin American rulers in pursuit of this aim.

The Chávez factor in Central America

Given that Chávez’s influence in Brazil and South America is limited, with the Paraguayan Senate voting against including Chavist Venezuela in Mercosur, and that his battle to expand towards Colombia might end in total failure and Alan García beat Ollanta Humala, the candidate Chávez supported in Peru, Central America becomes an easy and relatively inexpensive prey. Thanks to petrodollars, such a project could look like one of a rich and generous benefactor, offered like (not as) gifts and appropriated by the rulers, all the more beautiful for not passing through the supervised filter of the national budget as in Ortega’s Nicaragua, or for being sent directly to leftwing parties or handed over by Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PEDEVESA) in the form of cheaper or relatively soft loans as in El Salvador or Guatemala.

And it could end in tragedy, as in the partial funding of the failed popular consultation in Honduras. Above all it could represent a calamity for leftist parties and organizations interested in developing their country and building more participatory and just societies. These organizations could come to find themselves displaced, co-opted and at worst practically bought out by the bearers of Chávez’ petrodollars, just as the Right and the military officers were by Yankee dollars. They could end up pressed into the service of a project whose results will need to be measured and evaluated by the yardstick of the structural changes Chavez is achieving for Venezuela. Are they turning Venezuela into a country with food security and an economy that might overcome its excessive dependency on oil revenue in the long run?

When seeking those responsible for what’s happening to us in Central America I don’t stop at Colonel Hugo Chávez and his messianic politics. Just as I believe history will judge Chávez at the end of his electoral mandate fundamentally for what he might achieve structurally in Venezuela, so I believe that our politicians in Guatemala will be judged by history for what they might achieve structurally in this country.

Polarization between Right and Left

The Central American Right, currently as good at expressing itself as it was nearly three decades ago in opposition to the Sandinista revolutionaries, is profoundly polarized against the Left. And it isn’t leaving much space in the center for a real social government that could construct the present, rescue the past and set its course toward the future.

On August 31 Juan Héctor Vidal, columnist at San Salvador’s La Prensa Gráfica, businessman, former director of and now economic adviser to Guatemala’s Private Enterprise Association (ANEP), put it better than we could ourselves: “Personally I was never under the illusion that the transition [from ARENA to the FMLN, from Saca to Funes] would be easy. In the first place because 20 years of government by the same party has caused dissatisfaction in many people and left enough sediment to muddy the waters, create the right conditions to make its successors’ job difficult and even leave a strategically designed platform set up with ignominious ends. Aside from this, the situation of Mauricio Funes’ government is being made more complicated because it is suspected that within the [governing] party are groups that are not at all pleased with his overtures to private enterprise, the prudent distance he is keeping from Colonel Chávez, or his friendliness toward the Presidents of the United States, Brazil and other democratic governments in the region.”

This situation could lead us to greater polarization, to a greater radicalization of the Right, if possible, to new splits in groups of the Left, to a reversal in our countries of the development of forces endowed with true courage, true intelligence and with the poor in their hearts. It could lead us to continual attempts to close spaces until we end up transforming the political contest into a struggle between bands, or bandits, to the corruption of popular leaders tied up in petrodollars and a greater weakening of the precarious institutionality of the State, now converted into a theater for new and more damaging conflicts and a marketplace for new interests.

A new home-grown fascism

The failed conspiracy in Guatemala and the coup in Honduras are a warning that we could be facing a period of instability and violence, now not only organized by contraband dealers of all sorts, arms and drug traffickers, but politically driven in all Central America’s countries by a sort of mimetic warlike intransigence.

Armies and police forces are a destabilizing factor when they interfere in political conflict, but so too are paramilitary forces and the diverse forms of mercenary shock troops organized by governments, parties or other political groups. And thanks to unemployment and poverty, on the rise due to the consequences of the global crisis, we have a surplus of mercenaries. We may end up watching a groundswell of this phenomenon in the style of what has already seen recently in Nicaragua. Guatemalan and Salvadoran history already knows it very well and we are now seeing it in Honduras in that the marches in favor of reestablishing the constitutional order are infiltrated by violence. If we allow the resurrection of forms of homegrown mestizo or ladino fascism, if we allow public protest and demonstrations to cease being civic acts and come to blows in street battles between shock troops on each side, the street violence will invoke political violence. We must not and cannot let these become the rules of the game.

We can’t allow it

Politics, authentic politics, is dialogue, honest and civilized confrontation of diverse opinions in search of a common path. But while representative democracy must be defended by the entire citizenry, political rights, representative democracy’s freedoms can end up rotting if abysmal inequalities remain and there are no second and third generation human rights, i.e. social, economic and cultural human rights. Only a struggle for participation, for participatory democracy, will be able to defend the minimal benefits of representative democracy.

The 21st-century grassroots liberation or emancipation movements must not and cannot allow violence to start up again. Sparks of political violence in the streets will only cause the bonfire of criminal violence to flare up. Words, discussion, debate, creative imagery, humane ears that listen and eyes that see and understand are the tools of politics. Without all of these, power, which in the best of cases is mediation, a tool to organize society despite inevitable conflicts, will become pure and simple brute force at the service of dominant, and hence, privileged interests.

During the seventies we suggested to a Salvadoran interior minister that were the Police, National Guard or other security forces to go out to protect property and the government with automatic weapons of war, it would be a miracle if there were no mortal victims among the citizenry protesting their deplorable and unjust living conditions. He answered us with: “You’re a dreamer. We’re not in England or Switzerland.” The result of that self-interested pragmatism was a war with horrendous human rights violations and numerous unpunished crimes against humanity.

Grassroots movements,
not street mercenaries

In Guatemala and especially now in Honduras, the majority of grassroots movements has shown that there can be fair, protracted and firm resistance with peaceful demonstrations and protests, dialoging words and profoundly creative images. It has been an uplifting sight, in spite of the lack of ears to listen and eyes to see without duplicity. If on the other hand, the rules of the game of the political parties and grassroots movements once again accept the brutal challenge of violent methods, to which the Right and the Left, not the truly radical Left but the intolerantly radicalized Left, might be favorably disposed, the streets will become the battlegrounds of gangs or mobs. Only a dimwitted government would use the armed forces when it could control the streets with its shock troops, that is until the demonstrators get tired of being the only ones receiving blows and start dealing them out too. This is the road that leads to the mercenary gangsterizing of politics. Those who would gain in these turbulent waters, besides the recalcitrant Right, would be drug traffickers, corrupt police and military, private bodyguards and security forces and the hit men of those who can afford to pay, completing the theater of operations with this cast. Is this the sort of “democracy” we want in Central America?

The culture of the
old landed oligarchy

In Guatemala, the reasonable demands of landless farmers expressed in the Agrarian Platform during the last few administrations have intensified during Colom’s government. It seems that in the wake of Rosenberg’s death and the video, the President is trying to distance himself more obviously from the oligarchy that is attacking him so forcefully. He has drawn closer to the Indigenous and Rural National Coordinator (CONIC), to the extent of turning up at its assembly. He has also moved closer to the teacher’s union and its leader Joviel Acevedo. He seems to be trying to consolidate his relationship with the grassroots movements. He has come to an agreement with the Agrarian Platform, although he doesn’t seem to be promoting structural changes to deal with the problems of the countryside. There doesn’t appear to be interest in forcefully pushing the Rural Development Law in Congress, one of the many pending debts with the Peace Accords.

This brings us once again to the political culture of the Guatemalan Right. Land is a status symbol and a sign of class-based economic and racial differentiation. Land is the “mother country” of the old landed elite. Rural land in colonial times was the land of cacao, maize and beans, indigo and cochineal; during the Reform it was the land of coffee, bananas, sugar cane, rubber and cotton, the land of the now transcended agro-export model. Today it is the land of oil from the Petén and Alta Verapaz, gold from San Miguel Ixtahuacán in San Marcos and also the urban land of Calzada de la Paz and Las Margaritas, of the highway to El Salvador, of Justo Rufino Barrios’ supporters and so many others.

That homeland of the old elite endures without being the homeland of the poor ladino much less of the indigenous majority at the same time and with the same right. Their only option has been to go on barely existing on their little plots and traveling to the haciendas to bring in the crops at harvest time, or to live as tenant farmers on those haciendas.

Inforpress Centroamericana recently reported that more than 60,000 families still live in a tenant farmer regime. That system is something like feudal servitude except that the hacienda owner doesn’t protect his tenants and can evict them when he wants, as numerous proprietors did after the coffee crisis in 2003 in the Bocacosta de Quetzaltenango and San Marcos haciendas.

Land, hunger and
neoliberal capitalism

The ownership of a quantity of land that could offer sustainable development to peasant families and their descendents, the technical training to exploit it rationally and the corresponding loans are all intimately entwined with the hunger in Guatemala’s dry corridor and with migration to the United States from the western part of Guatemala, with its myriad smallholdings.

Right now hunger is on the front pages of the newspapers. And so it should be; it continues to exist today and everyday. The Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldáliga says that there are no more than two absolutes: Hunger and God. But the hunger currently on the front page, as it was during Portillo’s Presidency (2000 – 2004), is manipulated; it is hunger that wants to make Colom’s government and his wife’s Social Cohesion programs the only ones to blame, on the grounds of bad management or corruption. The government may well be partially responsible; it happens in all governments. But the media isn’t linking hunger also to the climate change contributed to by industries ruled by short-term gain or to the minimum tax burden that legislators are disposed to maintain and that big money fights to see that they do, opposing every progressive rise in income tax and capital gains tax. The fiscal reform bill has just failed again in Congress. Nor do the media draw a connection between hunger and the size of the minimum wage or the neoliberal system that has deprived people in this country since the eighties. To relate hunger to all this wouldn’t be politically correct, because then how could it continue to be an instrument hurled at a government that, even with its vacillating projects, terrifies this country’s economic elite?

A democratic gain

One democratic fight that has been won was getting Congress to reform the law regulating the Application Commissions. The job of these commissions is to clean the lists of those who present their curriculum vitae for posts in the Supreme Court and Appeals Court judgeships. It’s a struggle in which the civic leadership of the Pro Justice Movement and the grassroots movement called A Visible Guatemala, which are just starting a fight for economic, political and cultural transparency, has distinguished itself.

Various legal bodies took an important step by not accepting a proposal to allow the Application Commissioners to vote in secret. The voting will have to be public, an important measure to counter bribe or vote-buying attempts by corrupt organized crime conglomerates, their agents or representatives aimed at infiltrating the judicial branch, with people who would act favorably towards their interests.

Constitutional reform?

Another crucial issue in Guatemala at the moment is the proposal of the Congress Pro-Reform movement. It is led by the Center for Economic and Social Studies (CEES); radical neoliberal economist Manuel Ayau, founder and former rector of the Francisco Marroquín University as well as others from the same institution, among other people, although it members are never clear (there’s mention of “a group of citizens” and the “group of 75”). This movement is trying to propose substantial changes to the 1985 Guatemalan Constitution, famous for being the best that has existed in the country and has one of the best text in Latin American constitutional law.

Among other things the Congress Pro-Reform movement proposes to replace the current one-chamber Congress with a double chamber, one for representatives and the other for senators, on the pretext of better separating the branches of State. The Senate would consist of people over 50 years old who would be elected for 15 years and would have the capacity to dismiss the country’s President and Vice President for reasons open to interpretation by each person as “serious abuse of their functions.”

According to the proposal, the Senate would be above the Constitution. Under the Senate would also be international treaties, the Chamber of Representatives’ legislative decrees and the executive’s governmental decrees. In summary, it’s the plain and simple application of neoliberal economics to politics.

The proposal is based on venerable politico-philosophical authorities such as Aristotle, although obviously there’s no argument about why we have to return to government models such as the Athenian one, which—with the merit of having invented the government of, by and for citizens—restricted citizenship, participation in deliberation and decisions about public affairs to male landowners and in some cases artisans; not women, country folk or of course, slaves and “barbarians” (non Greeks).

As well as being oligarchic, the proposal is racist since, under cover of universal equality before the law, it would prohibit public affirmative action to disadvantaged sectors of the population that have traditionally lacked equal economic, educational, ethnic, linguistic or cultural opportunities. It’s a seriously retarded proposal. It includes a class-based dedication against any sort of structural change in the country and against any economic redistribution measure or search for true human equality and dignity. It demonstrates just how far the Right can go in conceiving national projects steeped in the rankest traditionalism and certainly not in the more worthy and emancipated of humanity’s traditions.

We believed...

We believed that the journey through the war illuminated our reasoning and changed our feelings to a certain degree. Or if not that, we believed—we wanted to believe—that at least it enlightened or showed our intelligence how to defend individual interests better based on a more shared citizenship, a more common good. Were we wrong?

Juan Hernandez Pico, sj is the envío correspondent in Guatemala.

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