Thursday, February 7, 2013

Guatemala’s murky politics

As I said, it's not easy to describe what is going on in Guatemala. Here's a recent letter to the Economist that challenges its somewhat rosy story of a week ago. The letter was sent by Armando de la Torre, the Dean of the graduate school of social sciences at the Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City.
SIR – You ran an encouraging article on Guatemala (“Edging back from the brink”, January 26th). Yet the politics of this country remain slippery. Guatemala has suffered from decades of civil unrest aggravated by a stultifying tradition of oligarchy. Left-wing insurgents tried to overthrow the state, but although they failed miserably the guerrillas won hearts and minds across the globe, and with that came political power. Today’s government is a product of that anomalous fact: an uneasy alliance between the oligarchy and the former guerrillas, with the presidency in the hands of the oligarchy and the justice ministry in the hands of the insurgents.
The arrest of soldiers at Totonicapán that you referred to was not a triumph for the rule of law, rather it was a case of the justice ministry disciplining its political opponents, to put it mildly. Claudia Paz y Paz, the attorney-general, has replaced the tradition of semi-lawlessness with something parading as constitutional law. Prosecutors who refuse to do the leftists’ bidding are punished, while violators of the law are the ministry’s off-the-record enforcers.
President Otto Pérez Molina allows this situation to continue in order to protect his position. The foreign media applaud it and say things are improving, even though they are not.
A few comments:

There are very few people who believe that the Guatemalan left has any "political power." Maybe if you characterize Colom, Baldizon, Paz y Paz and other as the "left."

I spoke to someone at the same Marroquin two weeks ago. They are researching the impact of foreign donations to local peasant and cooperative groups around the issues of mining and land reform. For them, the foreign money given to local organizations is much more threatening to the country than the mining industry itself.

There are those who believe that Paz y Paz should not be prosecuting Rios Montt and other former military officials because those individuals successfully defended the country against the communist URNG. They are heroes, not criminals. There's a relative of a former president here who just a few weeks ago said something to the effect that one should be thankful when people say/write "The US-backed Guatemalan government..." and Cold War in the same sentence.

There are others who believe that with so many challenges to Guatemala at present, any resources that prosecutors spend prosecuting human rights violations is time spent away from today's challenges.

I can't say that I agree with much in the op-ed but it is from a rather important educator.

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