It would seem that “the party’s over”
The US offensive waged through the CICIG in 2015
reached the historically untouchable economic elite.
It’s been a major blow, suggesting that the United States,
the power behind Guatemala’s 1954 counterrevolution,
is at long last putting an end to it.
At least while President Obama was in office,
the actors in the Elites’ Pact were being told
“That’s all! The party’s over!”
Fernando Girón Soto
Over the past year, the US power moves in Guatemala and the rest of what is called Central America’s Northern Triangle have been ongoing. Specifically in Guatemala, several apparently unrelated events between the last week of September and October 6, 2016, were in fact outlining both the logic and a course of action that is giving the sense that “something’s happening”, above all hin the elite sphere and the power centers. We can barely imagine its consequences, but it is bound to play an important role in the country that will be reconstructed in the coming years.
Several important events
Among these events were:
.the visit to Guatemala by Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of the US Armed Forces Southern Command during the last week of September 2016.
.The “Central American Donors’ Forum panel organized by the Seattle International Foundation and the Swedish Embassy that same week, attended by businesspeople representing Guatemala’s power elite.
.The National Businesspeople’s Conference (ENADE) on October 6.
.The public presentation of the United Nations Development Programme’s 2015-2016 National Human Development Report titled “Beyond conflict, struggles for welfare” that very same day.
All these happenings took place within the time frame prior to starting to implement the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle. Even more than coinciding in time, the four events will, by commission or omission, have political and operative influence, affecting Guatemala in different ways in the coming weeks, months and years, possibly even in the next decades.
Was Tidd’s visit to start neutralizing the Army?
The weight of the US Armed Forces on what happens in Guatemala means Admiral Tidd’s presence can’t be overlooked or naively seen as a “normal” visit to the Armed Forces of partner countries in the area. The decomposing of Guatemala’s political regime and the institutional weakness of the Guatemalan State imply adjustments to US intervention, be it on behalf of operations Guatemala’s Army could conduct or to suspend ones it’s thinking of undertaking. In other words, it implies neutralizing the Army as a factor of institutional power on the side of the oligrachical-criminal power structures it has historically served.
One practical consequence of his visit so far was the announcement that the Army will pull out of its work in public security, a decision announced by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and National Defense Minister Williams Mansilla. Over the course of this year, 4,200 soldiers dedicated to public security will gradually be withdrawn from this task.
Admiral Tidd’s visit also had other missions that may have to do with operations to secure both the sub-regional and local borders and with strategic military control of the national territory, preparing for actions or processes the US Armed Forces will implement.
A very important meeting in Tapachula
Admiral Tidd’s trip was triangulated with other important events, among them the visit to Guatemala by US General John F. Kelly, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and former commander of the Southern Command, on February 21 of this year, and Admiral Kidd’s own presence in Tapachula, Mexico, from February 2-28 in an extremely important meeting held with US and Mexican government delegations.
Participating on behalf of Mexico were Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray and General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, the national defense secretary. Admiral Tidd and General Lori Robinson, respectively the commanders of the Southern and Northern Command, participated on behalf of the United States toghether with Roberta S. Jacobson, the US ambassador to Mexico.
The meeting was to assess possible scenarios in both Mexico and Guatemala, even though no Guatemalan government official was present. As regards Mexico, they discussed protecting the borders from immigrants, illegal trafficking and terrorism, proposing a military cordon between Mexico and the United States 15 kilometers from the Guatemalan border. With respect to Guatemala, they discussed implementing military measures given the poor results of the political-judicial intervention.
A meeting that discusses issues dealing directly albeit delicately with Guatemala with no official of the Guatemalan State participating sends a clear sign about the country’s institutional weakness on issues of its own survival.
A clear sign of the Guatemalan crisis
Three perceptions were examined with respect to Guatemala: 1) evaluate what actions to take, who will conduct them and what reach they might have to fragment the country’s state unit; 2) identify local leaders who are legitimately or illegitimately seeking out territorial movements that could alter the management of the territory; and 3) analyze a possible legal segregation or partitioning of the country, what is called “systemic lack of governance”.
Four decisions were made in the meeting: 1) put in place authorities that are less corrupt than the current ones; 2) stop migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador towards the United States; 3) protect themselves from terrorism and “control” the flow of other illicit traffic; and 4) seal Mexico’s border with Guatemala.
It all started in 1954
And, what is this national crisis that was evaluated and analyzed in the meeting and in which decisions were made in the absence of any representation from our country? It seems we’re coming to the end of the model for exercising power imposed in Guatemala since 1954, after the disaster of the coup growing out of the CIA-led intervention with the support of the country’s large landowners and the Catholic Church hierarchy and with the complicity of the Guatemalan Army.
The regime put in place in 1954 didn’t necessarily mean a total return to the ways of exercising power before the October 1944 revolution. But even though some contradictory features from the 19944-54 revolutionary model were kept, the power structure that was imposed was oriented towards a dictatorial oligarchic model and therefore, exclusive mechanisms of financial accumulation and concentration of wealth were used in exercising power and within the political structure.
These central characteristics of the regime had multiple political, economic and social consequences. Probably the most terrible of all was the internal armed conflict that went on for over three decades, bleeding the country and serving as a way to eliminate more than one generation of political, social, academic, intellectual and community leaders. Their absence is dramatically felt in the current crisis.
The imposed regime also destroyed the rural and urban social fabric by applying state terrorist policies. The State itself subjected society to violent, authoritarian relationships that were intolerant of political, ethnic and all sorts of other differences, and to relationships modeled by discipline and military patterns expressed in extreme ways ranging from the use of “scorched-earth” tactics to true acts of genocide.
They can’t hold on any longer
The fact that the regime is in crisis and its end is within sight doesn’t mean an assured leap to a democratic regime. Democracy will need to be constructed out of the economic, social, political and cultural distortions accumulated over the course of a politically myopic and ideologically blind authoritarian domination that has hung on for over 60 years.
The undeniable reality is that the system of domination and its hegemonic actors imposed back in those times can’t hold on any longer. Hegemony can no longer be maintained by stubborn imposition, because even if it’s totally authoritarian, it needs the creation of acceptable social, cultural, psychological and ideological self-identity, yet the elite actors can’t seem to find practical, efficient ways to build hegemony with the minimum “consent” of the different subordinate groups anymore.
Hegemony also needs the creation of economic advantages that will make “active consensus” from subordinate sectors possible. Only then could the authoritarian power that was imposed continue to exercise power effectively.
A geopolitical nuisance in the region
Despite the economic growth of national capitalism, which is producing a deeply unequal and inequitable economy, it’s now evident that the time for things to change in Guatemala is imminent, whether the elite understand this or don’t and refuse to accept it.
The elements of parasitism, ineffectiveness, stagnation and predatory attitudes towards resources, the exploitative attitudes towards people and the lack of scruples by the hegemonic sectors that have always lived clinging to “corrupt businesses” conducted with public funds have turned the country into a factory cranking out poverty, migrants and exclusion. Those hegemonic sectors changed the country into a land of all manner of criminal trafficking. Guatemala has become a subregional geopolitical nuisance for the dominant world power, which is now saying “That’s all! The party’s over!”
Added to the many political, social and economic problems accumulated over the decades are now symptoms of the decline of the State and its institutions, ironically as a result of 25 years of being weakened by their main beneficiaries: the economic and political sectors that since the early 1990s imposed their own oligarchical, mercantile version of the Washington Consensus. This oligopolistic agenda of the country’s economically powerful sectors, be they local, traditional or emerging, some of which border on criminal conduct, have withered the State enough to make it disappear in a way Marx surely never even dreamed of.
The peace changed little after 1996
This programmatic path has never varied much. In fact, the very same direction was maintained even after the Peace Accords were signed in 1996.
Those agreements were to have been a country agenda, prerhaps with deficiencies, but at the same time with the advantage
of being an inclusive agenda with a comprehensive scope to be able to deal with the country’s historical structural problems that were the underlying cause of the political-military confrontation.
The power sectors could have taken advantage of these to embark on a different course from the one traveled previously.
Admittedly, the accords lacked deeper practical foresight. Focusing on solving broad structural problems without foreseeing the real possibilities of building short-term operational solutions that would allow for the design and implementation of the necessary longer-term solutions. However, that deficiency should have been a reason to deepen, develop and even surmount them when implemented.
The peace accords were always blocked
Reality, however, unfolded differently, with the exception of some limited operative agreements regarding the army, the creation of the National Civil Police and the demobilization and integration into legal political life of the insurgent forces. In the end, though, the accords were continuously blocked by successive governments, including the very one that signed them, that of Alvaro Arzu (1996-2000).
All governments that blocked them, some more than others, always represented the interests of groups of de facto economic oligarchic power or of criminal and hidden powers, as happened during Alfonso Portillo’s government (2000-2004). These groups prospered, reproduced and acted by “administering” and exploiting the structural problems the Peace Accords aspired to solve.
Added to that is the fact that the organizations of insurgents transformed into political parties couldn’t, didn’t know how to or didn’t try to become an effectively vindicating and operational force to achieve the accords. To a certain degree, this explains why these organizations are now an insignificant anecdote of Guatemala’s political life.
A cartoon-like State
In this misguided panorama, it was almost a logical consequence that organized crime networks would start coopting the public institutionality. During most of the last 20 five years the elite accumulated and concentrated enormous wealth, plundering and weakening the State until turning it almost into a cartoon, efficient only to protect and promote their profits and privileges.
And in the process , they impoverished the people back to the social levels of the 1950s. A few indices suffice: 10% of the population, including more that a million and a half children, is malrnourished; 70% of the economically active population is employed in precarious, low-paid informal work; almost 3 million have emigrated to the United States, most of them illegally, to escape the poverty, exclusion and lack of opportunities in Guatemala; and diseases that had been overcome, such as measles and tuberculosis, are returning. And these are only some of the many tragedies. In the Western hemisphere, only Haiti has worse social indices than Guatemala.
Support for Otto Pérez Molina
Under these circumstances, the crisis was served when the local oligarchy very irresponsibly decided to support the bid for President by Otto Perez Molina, an openly anti-insurgent retired Army general linked to war crimes and serious human rights violations. It was a clear rollback of the scant advances made after the Peace Accords, and caused the US government and much of the international community to start putting up red flags. Perez Molina’s election in 2012 made it evident that Guatema’s dominant sectors didn’t understand a thing or at best very little. Their ultraconservative blindness hindered their clear reading of the strategic scenario.
It only took until October of that same year for the US perception to be confirmed by the “Alaska Massacre.” That bloody event on October 24, 2012, in which military and police opened fire on a peaceful protest by K’iche protestors on a stretch of the Inter-American highway known as Cumbre de Alaska in the western higlands, resulting in killing seven and injuring 34, indicated to Washington what course the oligarchical-military consortium in government would be taking. It was a veritable backpedaling in the conditions of governance, deepening an increasingly predatory and exploitive model and thus accelerating Guatemala’s already critical conditions, turning the country into an even more serious nuisance to the policies of regional control and direction designed by Washington.
A State in freefall
Since then the political and operational decline of the Guatemalan State was basically in freefall. The spiraling corruption of the main public officials allied with mafia networks outside of the State and the oligarchical powers’ pillaging of public funds to the detriment of the people increased the plundering of the country, making the State a puppet for the use of the wiliest, lacking its own direction, capacity for self-reflection or possibility of halting its own unstoppable decline.
Neither the economic elite nor the public powers correctly interpreted the successive visits of US Vice President Biden and the secretrary of state. They only saw an opportunity to increase their pillaging using the resources and possibilities of more business that would be granted them by the “Plan for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle of Central America:”
Mafias on the defensive
By the end of 2014 Guatemala had moved up to US security’s number 4 priority. From that moment the “cards were dealt” in the North. Perez Molina’s decision to object to the continuation of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) only hastened his political demise. On April 16, 2015, a blow by the Public Ministry and CICIG to the Superintendence of Tax Administration (SAT) uncovered the case known as “La Linea.”
The state mafias, military, “business leaders” and mafia structures acting outside of the State, all of them interrelated through communicating vessels for corruption, illicit enrichment and the exercise of power, were left without a strategic initiative iin one fell swoop, . Since then they have been on the defensive and furiously treading water.
According to the CICIG report, these illegal political-economic networks “constitute a convergence of individuals and/or groups of individuals that are self-organized and cooperate, communicate and inform each other and have common interests and/or shared objectives to carry out activities and tasks of political, economic and/or mixed character, mainly illegal, though collaterally illegal. These networks carry out illicit political practices and economic transactions.”
In the case of “La Línea,” the main ringleaders were none other than the country’s President and Vice Presidentc.
Jimmy Morales doesn’t realize “where he’s standing”
What followed is well-known. The citizens’ protests that started on April 25, 2015, rose like a tide. They were accompanied by legal processes against President Perez Molina and his Vice President, with the latter resigning on May 8 and the former on September 2 of that same year.
The government’s Cabinet was dismantled and a large number of government officials, some businesses and businesspeople, as well as corrupt members of the judicial branch and the country’s Congress were detained and are currently also undergoing legal processes. The government virtually stopped functioning as such and, in fact, the State’s real strategic power moved into the hands of the US Embassy.
A “conservative restoration government” headed by comedian Jimmy Morales was put into place after the elections of September 6, 2015,. Over a year and a half later, the “administration” of this government is a major fiasco. Its political, and operational inabilities and its lack of capacity for public direction, including serious intellectual difficulty grasping “where it’s standing” has placed the already weak and inefficient Guatemalan State in a position of extremely dangerous inactivity.
The elites’ pact has been broken
The US “offensive” reached the “historically untouchable” economic elite for the first time, fingering them publicly with documented evidence as accomplices to “dirty businesses.” Though not yet fully visible, the “four sided blow”, has been devastating. It certifies that the United States, the power that defined, created and launched the 1954 counterrevolution, is now in fact liquidating it.
The “Elites’ Pact” that made the tragedy of almost 63 years possible, has been broken. The oligarchy, now not just big landowners, though always oligopolistic, patrimonial and recalcitrant, is deeply divided between traditional, emergent and criminal sectors.
What with its crimes during the internal war and the deep corruption in which many active and retired officers are involved, the Army is today a questionable institution, without morals or operative capacity . The institution will surely be shaken all the way to its foundations because of its links with all sorts of criminal trafficking.
The Catholic church, a key actor in the 1954 pact, has not been part of the pact for a while now. During the internal armed conflict it paid a very high price in deaths, persecution and cornering.
The birthing will be painful
Now begins the long and painful birthing of a new way, a model and methodologies for exercising power in Guatemala, different from what we have known for several generations. What will it be like? Donning a fortune-teller’s robe wouldn’t be very serious. The only thing that’s clear is that the circumstances are difficult.
The counterinsurgent irrationality and the pathological anticommunism of all those decades bequeathed us a society with no political formation, until recently immersed in deep anomie that may still be persisting, with very scant leadership at best and with little trust in public institutions. It’s an individualistic society marked by neoliberal alienation, and centered on consumerism, characteristics that paralyze the middle classes.
Determined that nothing will change
The measures for change that should have been taken since April 2015 have either not been taken or are moving exceedingly slowly. For example, the reforms to the political system in the Electoral Law and Political Parties Law, which were urgent and key to relaunching the system and seeking viable ways for operating and reacing consensus, were not implemented to the desired depth, and consequently, the system is virtually the same as it was before.
Similarly, the constitutional reforms to the judicial system are encountering serious resistance in the Guatemalan Congress and from the country’s main businesses. The perception is that both the political and business sectors are determined nothing should change.
Hence the importance of the crucial meeting held in Tapachula mentioned at the beginning. Thart meeting made it clear that the Guatemalan government and its political, social, business and academic sectors are no longer main protagonists in the conduction of the national crisis. The specter of the lack of governance, therefore, is growing at the same time that space for action and social or political response from the people is closing. In these circumstances, building democratic and politically functional alternatives in the short run is an urgent challenge if we are to participate in some way in the processes of change and the birth of a political regime different from the one we have, which under the current circumstances will not necessarily be either inclusive or fair.
Fernando Girón Soto is a political analyst and the envío correspondent in Guatemala.