Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 246 | Enero 2002



Portillo Lives on Appearances While Covering up Reality

Guatemala: Two discourses, two countries. One, the satisfied rhetoric of President Portillo, a political playboy. The other, the private sector criticisms and skeptical desperation of the majority. We must get past appearances to find out what’s really going on.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

Alfonso Portillo’s presidential term is already more than half over. In the newspapers, reports of corruption come one after another with dizzying speed. When public opinion is sounded out, corruption takes a relatively low place among people’s concerns: it was mentioned as the country’s leading problem by only 5% of those polled in F. Noguera’s October 2001 survey and 8% in Vox Latina’s survey this January. President Portillo assures that "there’s no crisis in the country."
Private enterprise and the mainstream press, however, insist that he is talking about a fictitious country, the one of his dreams, while "we’re mired in troubles and decadence." The public is certainly aware of the problems, in particular unemployment and the state of the economy, which were cited as the two most pressing problems by 60% in F. Noguera’s survey and 51% in Vox Latina’s.

"I’m satisfied"

One striking sign of trouble in government is the turnover of top Cabinet officials. Only six of the 12 Cabinet ministers have been in their posts for the full first two years of Portillo’s term. Four ministries have already gone through three ministers, and another three have gone through two. Ministers have resigned from the ministries of finance, government and communications amidst scandals involving incompetence, bribery, misuse of funds and influence peddling. Despite all this, the President maintains that most of his ministers are effective and not corrupt. In summing up his first two years’ achievements, Portillo proclaimed that his administration has succeeded in "freeing politics": the State is no longer captive to the traditional powers.

His most prominent opponent, Jorge Briz, president of the Chamber of Commerce and leader of the August 1, 2001 national strike against the tax package that included a proposal to up sales tax to 12%, countered that "the incapacity, corruption and confrontation have created an environment of fear and discouragement." While Portillo boasts that his government has helped "mature and consolidate our democratic system," Briz charges that "the most unfortunate thing is that public resources are being used to destroy institutionality and democracy." The recent survey by Vox Latina—the same polling company that correctly predicted the results of Guatemala’s last elections—shows that 82% do not approve of Portillo’s government, 93% would not vote for him again, 88% feel the government is doing a bad job, 93% do not trust the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), and 92% do not trust its leader, retired General Efraín Ríos Montt. According to F. Noguera’s survey, 70% feel that Portillo’s government is not implementing a plan of government, in other words, that it acts chaotically.

In an interview with Portillo published in the daily newspaper Prensa Libre on January 20, six days after giving his annual report to Congress, the President said, in contrast, "With respect to changes we could make, I believe we’ve already made enough. I’m satisfied because I’ve done what I’ve always dreamt of doing, ever since I was a student, in fiscal and financial matters, labor and education—I’ve addressed all these important areas."
There are two discourses here, and one might even think they are talking about two different countries. The question is, can we get beyond appearances and sift through these differences to find out what is really going on?

Satisfied in fiscal matters?

Most definitively, the Fiscal Pact did represent "a giant step forward" for the country, as we commented in an analysis in envío during 2000, but it must be noted that this pact came about thanks to the Commission to Accompany Fulfillment of the Peace Accords. The Commission used its capacity to bring together many different representatives of civil society and, only at the end, top government officials. The pact was signed in May of that year, and we wrote then that it was "the closest thing to a Social Pact that the country has known," although it was not clear that the organizations that drafted it were representative or that there was real political will on the part of the government or social will on the part of the powers grouped together in the business umbrella organization CACIF.

On June 20, an agreement was signed in the follow-up commission responsible for the tax-related part of the pact, but this agreement failed to make all the basic transformations required in the tax structure. Even the changes that were made were too much for some sectors, however. Vice President Paco Reyes formed his own negotiating commission and revised the follow-up commission’s proposal to create yet another tax package, which Finance Minister Manuel Maza presented to Congress. Maza later resigned after being implicated in the "twin banks" scandal involving one of the President’s closest friends and biggest contributors.

The end result was a law that not only failed to reflect the tax reforms agreed to in the Fiscal Pact, but also became the source of yet another scandal. Although Congress increased taxes on alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, affecting the powerful interests behind those industries, these taxes disappeared from the law at the last minute in what became known as "Boozegate." Meanwhile, FRG congressional representatives repeatedly declared that, as the country had not yet achieved a sustained 6% GDP growth rate, they would not increase the sales tax because they did not want to hurt the Guatemalan people. These promises proved to be mere words: a year later, the sales tax went from 10% to 12%.

It is also true that along with the higher sales tax, Congress approved another tax package that affected business income, fuel, alcoholic beverages and tobacco, and established criminal penalties against evasion. But the prosecutor in charge of the "Boozegate" case got the judge to dismiss it on grounds of lack of evidence in October 2001. The 24 FRG representatives who had been stripped of their parliamentary immunity and were potentially facing charges thus got off scot-free.

No end of pending tasks

"Fiscal matters," as President Portillo says, have been the battle horse of his presidency. The tax burden—that is, the percent of the GDP represented by taxes legally due—is approaching 11%, not far from the 12% stipulated in the Peace Accords. This has been achieved in a chaotic way, however, leading business sectors to complain that the rules of the game keep changing and the state provides no certainty to the economy.

No results have been seen in the other areas addressed by the Fiscal Pact: a more rational public spending plan, more effective tax collection, more honest, transparent and efficient use of tax income or a negotiated budget. Nor has any headway been made in economic reactivation or the periodic open evaluation of the whole process, as also stipulated in the Peace Accords. All of these are pending tasks.

Evidence of all these failings abounds. Examples include the contracts by the Ministry of Communications and Road Infrastructure as a result of influence peddling, which furthermore were never fulfilled, and the scandalous diversion of funds in the Ministry of Government. Most offices under the executive branch have been unable to implement their budgets, and unprogrammed transfers were made to the Ministry of Defense, increasing its budget by some 30%-50% more than was programmed, while the Ministry of Finance ran out of money two months before the end of the year. The 2002 budget provides further evidence: it cut funds to the judicial branch and failed to increase the education and health budgets, but did increase the budget assigned to the Ministry of Defense, all in violation of the Peace Accords.

Satisfied in labor?

With respect to labor, Portillo can be proud of getting Congress to pass bills that incorporate ILO conventions into national legislation. Among other things, they guarantee organized agricultural workers the right to strike.

The issue of wage increases has been and remains very controversial, however. In general, private enterprise has been discouraged by the successive urban and rural minimum wage hikes decreed by the President, indignantly maintaining that any non-consensual increase leads to job loss more than to job creation and well-being for more workers, especially given Guatemala’s current economic slowdown. The truth is that no agreements have been reached in the three-party negotiations and failing them, it is constitutionally up to the President to decide. While the presidential decrees have angered the business sector, however, they have not satisfied the workers.

Minimum wage doesn’t
cover basic needs

The minimum wage is so low relative to the cost of a basket of basic goods that while the raises that the executive branch declared may make up for the loss of purchasing power caused by inflation, it is on a woefully inadequate base. The National Statistics Institute calculated the month basket of basic goods, including food, clothing, housing, health care, transportation, recreation, education and other basic needs for a family of five—most families smaller than—at 2,309 quetzals ($289) month in October 2001. The food basket alone was equivalent to $158. Yet the minimum rural wage is 825 quetzals ($103), while the minimum urban wage is 900 quetzals ($112). Only if two people work in each household, both earning the minimum wage, can a family afford the basic food basket, with little left over to choose which of their other needs they will be able to fill and which will have to remain pending.

The UNDP’s 2001 report on Guatemala notes that unemployment is just 2%. But this 1998 figure, which is the most recent official one, does not reflect the economic slowdown since 1999 o the severe coffee crisis. In recent surveys, employment shows up as one of the population’s main concerns. Considering this context, labor matters are much more complex than President Portillo suggested.

Satisfied in education?

The President also appears satisfied with what he has achieved in education. The Ministry of Education’s budget tops the list, with 12% of total public spending. Taking into account the contributions to education made by other ministries, public spending in this area comes to some 15% of total public spending. But this level barely reaches the percentage of the GDP to be dedicated to education according to the Peace Accords. It amounts to 2.65% in 2002, leaving the country far behind the over 5% that Costa Rica and Panama assign to education, and even behind current levels in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.

The Ministry of Education is the only state agency whose actions are favorably rated by over half of those surveyed in the public opinion polls. Neither the minister nor the two vice ministers have been accused of corruption. They have been involved in sharp controversies over the decree that students must participate in the National Literacy Campaign in their final year of high school, and the lack of pay for teachers in a National Educational Development Program active especially at the primary level and in indigenous areas.

The government has made a great effort to investigate and evaluate its educational reform. Education Vice Minister Demetrio Cojtí, a communications Ph.D. of indigenous origin, sees the government’s main educational achievements in "literacy, the generalization of bilingual education and universal access to primary education." According to the UNDP, however, in 2000 it still took "an average of nine years to complete primary school, which raised costs by 52%." There are also problems with the efficiency of basic courses and conflicts due to the government’s "punishments" to the university budget.

Thus, the education situation is also more complicated than President Portillo would have it appear, in a world in which the greatest capital of both individuals and countries lies in the level and quality of their knowledge and information.

Satisfied in financial matters?

Portillo also mentioned "financial matters" among his achievements. What exactly he was referring to is not clear. The President said that "the country has not had an economically efficient Cabinet like the one it has now for the last 60 or 70 years." He also noted that he had intervened in the "twin banks" of his friend and campaign contributor Francisco Alvarado. "What President in Latin America intervenes in the banks of someone who is a friend and contributed to his campaign?" he asked. In fact, the decision to intervene was made by the superintendent of banks and the president of the Bank of Guatemala, who enjoy great autonomy, and Portillo has done little to demand that his banking friend respond in court.

Portillo is most likely speaking of four bills on financial issues presented to Congress by one of his most steadfast and wisest collaborators, Bank of Guatemala president Lizardo Sosa. These are the bank and financial groups bill, new legislation governing the Bank of Guatemala, and the financial oversight and monetary bills. Like the sales tax increase, this legislative package represents conditions laid down by the international community to continue its support in financing the Peace Accords. Given the entry into the banking business of new companies with little founding capital, the instability created by non-bank financing institutions, the irresponsible speculative behavior of several banks, the fraudulent losses, the loans made by majority stockholders on the board to their own companies, etc., it is clear that the financial system must be modernized so it can better promote the country’s development. It must also be subjected to an oversight that protects savers and investors more effectively.

National opposition bloc

The President is talking about laws that are still up in the air. The FRG could approve the banking bill since it requires only a simple majority, but the other three require a two-thirds majority and the FRG needs the votes of the opposition to pass them. The opposition benches have refused to vote on these laws, however. Not even appearances in Congress by representatives of the IMF, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank in support of the laws have convinced them. They say they are tired of the FRG’s arrogance in legislating without any consultation by virtue of its absolute majority, and have decided to make their indispensable votes count. They also question whether it is wise to facilitate a $400 million World Bank-IDB loan to this government in exchange for the laws, given the corruption and possible squandering of uncontrolled resources.

The "national opposition bloc" is an initiative promoted by Alvaro Colom, general secretary of the National Union of Hope, a party currently in formation. Colom stood for a leftist coalition in the last elections and hopes to lead a much broader coalition in 2003. In exchange for the votes to approve the pending financial legislation, this new bloc has asked the FRG to agree to negotiate with it on the probity bill and the reform to the law governing the Comptroller’s Office, addressing both state and private corruption. As can be seen, "financial matters" are more complicated and important than the President suggests in applauding his government’s achievements.

Appearances or realities?

In his January 14th speech to Congress summing up his annual report, the President spoke of other achievements. Maintaining macroeconomic stability. Breaking the cement, flour, chicken, sugar and fertilizers monopolies. Investments in housing, telephones and roads. Land distribution. A literacy campaign reaching 350,000 people. Increasing health coverage to 9 million people. Rescheduling the Peace Accords. Recognizing state responsibility in human rights violations during the internal armed conflict. Striving for reconciliation and reparations to victims.

We are not going to add up pros and cons for each of these "achievements." The basic question in each is whether Portillo is only putting up appearances or is working hard in reality.

"Since I was a boy,
I said I’d be President"

One listens to the President with concern when one hears him say, with two years of government still ahead of him, that he has already made enough changes and feels satisfied. In a January interview in the daily newspaper Siglo XXI, he was asked if he ever thought of resigning at the most difficult moments. He replied, "Never. All the emotions have done is increase my adrenaline, but I wanted this. Ever since I was a boy, I said I’d be President of Guatemala, and as I grew up I understood that it would be hard to govern." Portillo resembles a political playboy. Does he just want to be President of Guatemala or does he really want to work hard, imaginatively and tirelessly every day of his presidency, to the end?
The President already seems to be thinking of his exit. "I’m now beginning the stage when I lose power, because the next government is starting to move and the parties are beginning to put forth their candidates, to work around the country." Thus, Portillo is practically renouncing two years of his government, although in Guatemala the campaign does not really get underway until February or March of the fourth year. Could it be that what has motivated him in these two years is only the confrontation, the grandiloquent fight against the economic power that has traditionally imposed its will on Guatemala?

Against "the elite
of the economic elite"

Neither the FRG nor Portillo’s government team includes members of the traditional oligarchy or executives of the business elite. They more typically have attracted businesspeople who made their fortunes recently, like Vice President Paco Reyes, whose father built a transport business with trucks crossing the borders into Mexico and the United States. They also include banking friends and people in the luxury car import business, like Alvarado, whose two sons were the secretary and manager of the presidency. Portillo has been surrounded by people relatively new to the world of big business. He boasts that his government is allied with businesspeople who offer decent wages, pay their taxes, and repudiate and denounce corrupt employees. With the others, those whom Portillo calls "the upper echelons of the economic elite," he has launched what appears to be a radical confrontation. But is it really, or is this just appearances too?

Attacks, respect
and defiant remarks

Portillo argues that what has "prevented me from dedicating more time to govern is having to defend myself from so many attacks and so much harassment" from people whose interests are safe, who are "not in serious trouble," and are responsible for the "effort to destabilize." He says that "they do not share a democratic culture; they are interested only in their business and their capital. I respect them. What I don’t respect and am going to oppose are those who want to impose their private interests above the interests of the nation, who want to destroy democracy when it doesn’t benefit them."
And when these businesspeople remind him that CACIF could call another national strike as it did last August Portillo, instead of soberly mentioning the possibility of the talks he had called for January, responds like a fighting cock: "The state has legal and political instruments to escalate the strike. What will happen, for example, if they go on strike? Well then we’ll all go on strike! No product will leave or enter Guatemala during the strike. Who would lose? They have delivery dates, they need materials. Will this paralyze the country? Let’s paralyze it then!" But the President betrays himself. Who would lose if he actually carried out this defiant threat? Obviously, the businesspeople and their private interests would lose, but the nation and the people as a whole would lose as much or more.

Who’s pulling the strings?

The President may be more interested in his war with the economic crème de la crème than in the effective, concerted, calm and productive implementation of the Peace Accords and in the best proposals to accompany them, such as the Fiscal Pact. Even more troubling, he may be more interested in a war of words at full volume, as he certainly was in his first two years, than in any real confrontation. If this is indeed the case, it may be because he has had less control over events from the very start of his term than his post would suggest. It may be Vice President Reyes, as Ríos Montt’s second-in-command, who is pulling the real strings of government and power.

Nicaraguan journalists and analysts have compared the Portillo-Ríos Montt pair to the current Nicaraguan pair of Bolaños-Alemán. The difference will only be apparent with time. Portillo says he is coming to an end of his term while Bolaños is barely beginning.

Private enterprise
has entered the ring

Private enterprise entered the ring at the start, along with CACIF, its most important umbrella association. Some of its most visible leaders are Jorge Briz of the Chamber of Commerce; Alvaro Castillo Monge of the National Brewery Group and president and columnist of the daily newspaper Siglo XXI; and Dionisio Gutiérrez of the Gutiérrez Group, which includes Pollo Campero, the huge transnational fried chicken chain. Gutiérrez also hosts the television program "Libre Encuentro," the only political analysis program on the air.

The fiercest skirmish took place around the tax increase. On August 1 of last year, opponents managed to bring people from a broad range of social sectors out onto the streets and paralyze business in virtually the whole country. Vice President Reyes is awaiting a hearing in the courts and in Congress as alleged author of the order to print and distribute thousands of flyers in the capital denigrating Jorge Briz after the successful strike. When President Portillo threatened to publish the names of businesses that supposedly evaded paying over $100 million in taxes, CACIF president Felipe Bosch, of the Gutiérrez Group, promptly announced CACIF’s decision not to participate in the January talks called by the President.

Famine and a symbolic mistake

Private enterprise most effectively waged its battle immediately after the national strike, when the drought brought famine to the municipalities of Jocotán, Camotán and Olopa in the department of Chiquimila. The businesspeople organized a campaign that brought together a new committee calling itself Solidarity, the Rotary Club and two private foundations. Photos of famished, malnourished people flooded the front pages. And as Solidarity’s storerooms filled up with food that trucks then distributed in the affected towns and private enterprise announced projects to diversify production to move beyond the region’s dependence on a subsistence economy, all the state could do was to argue that "there has always been hunger in Guatemala."
It is true that the scourge of hunger has always existed in Guatemala because there has always been extreme structural poverty and great inequality in access to education and development. And it is true that Guatemalan private enterprise has not been distinguished by its interest in procuring greater social equity. But it is no less true that the state, at least its executive and legislative branches, showed enormous insensitivity to the recent famine. "You’ve been questioned for not visiting the most affected area," Portillo was told, to which he replied, "It’s a symbolic thing. Perhaps I should have gone. And when I make a mistake, I accept it." He added that for that reason he was going to inaugurate the 2002 school year in one of the municipalities affected by the famine, "as a symbol that I’m concerned about this area." Although recognition of his mistake is laudable, it may cast light on his reason for not going in the first place: his unwillingness to follow in private enterprise’s footsteps. Once again, it seems that the President is waging a war of appearances.

Faced for the first time
with a strong state

Why has private enterprise engaged this battle so publicly when on many other occasions it has fought behind the scenes to defend its interests? There seem to be several reasons. First, it is not accustomed to seeing its power in the market challenged by a strong state. Much of the revenue brought in by the new tax structure is now being devoured by corruption and squandered by incompetence, but it has the potential to make the Guatemalan state a strong state for the first time in its history, not only by virtue of its army’s weapons. It now has the clout of the resources collected and the force of a law that can judge people in court, impose more severe penalties and even imprison evaders.

Despite its relative autonomy, the Guatemalan state has traditionally been at the service of the powerful classes. President Portillo is right when he says that his government’s policies are freeing the state "from the traditional powers," even if the government is squandering this incipient, potential liberation through corruption and incompetence.

Disgusted by corruption
and incompetence

Indeed, the second reason private enterprise has taken up this fight may be the repugnance in more than a few business circles towards the current government’s levels of corruption and incompetence. Once the rules of the game are established, a certain business ethos exists that sees honest compliance as a stamp of honor. Another ethos—which does not exist—would be for private enterprise to permit rules that favor the common good. Many business sectors fear the triumph of the mafias and their criminal capital, which hide behind the unscrupulous nouveaux riche, and of powerful former military officers who are out to break rival businesses.

The President is also right when he reminds private enterprise that "corruption and the lack of transparency are not state monopolies," that the inclination towards corruption does not go beyond that until the bribes are offered, and that companies’ accounts are also manipulated. Italian politics, to give just one example, demonstrates the first of these truths and the fraudulent bankruptcy of the Enron Corporation in the United States the second. The brutal Argentine crisis exemplifies both, in addition to being a salient condemnation of the World Bank and IMF policies.

Offended and concerned
by the President’s language

The businesspeople’s third reason may be the most significant: private business considers the President’s language dangerous. Although he affirmed in his annual address that his government "does not promote an anti-business policy," his efforts to de-legitimize the "elite of the economic elite," accusing them of lacking "a democratic culture," of trying to "impose their private interests above those of the nation" and of being huge tax evaders, are clear. Private enterprise is offended by this language. Above all, it fears that its continual repetition by the President may end up undermining business hegemony, that cultural force which makes people see the established order that favors business in both the economic and political arenas as normal and legitimate.

In this arena, appearances do matter. They can, for example, lead to populism, a form of government that may not be revolutionary but can be a time bomb when expectations are sown but not met in times of great suffering, exploitation and lack of participation. All of these reasons may help explain why Guatemalan private enterprise has joined this battle of appearances with such determination.

Appearances are up
against crude realities

Realities flow beneath the appearances. They include the lack of progress in fulfilling the Peace Accords; the potential resurgence of an authoritarian state; the army’s recovery of important government positions; the solid wall of impunity; the persistent source of corruption found in incompetence and, in the eyes of more than a few people, the shadow of the US war against terrorism, with its renewed legitimizing of military intelligence mechanisms and suspicion that any ethnic group is fundamentalist.

The presence in the government ministry of a division general, retired after ending his term as minister of defense, could be the worst sign if he is tied to the corrupt retired officers who still appear to dominate the army and its nominations and promotions from outside. It could be insignificant were he not linked to the "brotherhood," and his new post represented nothing more than the President’s nomination of a childhood companion from the same region of the country who merits his trust as one of his lightning rods against military coups.

Nevertheless, appointing retired military officers suggests dangerous militarization, at the very least, of the country’s security, which violates the letter and the spirit of the Peace Accords. Repeated interference with the dates for the trial of the alleged plotters of the assassination of Myrna Mack and dismissal of the case against the congressional representatives who altered the alcoholic beverages tax law suggest how much obstinacy and wisdom will be needed to gain ground against impunity.

Guatemala Forum: "Our last chance"

In August, the Guatemala Forum was established in the capital, coordinated by the rectors of the National University of San Carlos and the Rafael Landívar University. Its participants include academic research institutes, university student organizations, human rights and pro-justice organizations, the Guatemalan Bishops Conference and Confederation of Evangelical Churches, unions, CACIF and a large number of other civil society groups.

The Guatemala Forum’s initial objective is to encourage dialogue within civil society. A later objective, once a certain level of agreement is reached, will be to hold talks with the state. The forum has worked out common positions on the reactivation of the economy, the Electoral and Political Parties Law still in process, especially the criteria for electing the new Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and several other important issues. It has also become a respected advocacy group, although only 3% of the population had heard of it by October, according to the F. Noguera survey. The Forum’s secretary is also the secretary of CACIF, which has led to a certain perception that CACIF is the prevailing influence in the Forum, and a fear that this may indeed by the case.

Despite everything, as Dr. Poitevin, a sociologist and vice rector of the Rafael Landívar University, points out, talks between at least some sectors of civil society and the state represent "our last opportunity to establish the basis for a political understanding aimed at the country’s development in the medium term. And we aren’t talking about the last opportunity of the government, the FRG or President Portillo, but rather of the democratic process itself."

Bishops speak of the "cancer of corruption"

On January 25, at the election of its new board of directors, in which the new Archbishop of Guatemala, Monseñor Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, was elected president, the Bishops Conference released a statement titled, "I have seen the suffering of my people."
"For a very long time, millions of Guatemalans have suffered from the consequences of living in a society that is tremendously unjust and exclusive." After this opening line, the bishops referred to the poverty in which over half the population lives, which contrasts with the fact that "some two thousand families have an annual income of nearly two million quetzals [some $200,000]." They denounced the budget cuts for some social services, "while the budget for the army has increased," and spoke of the "cancer of public and private corruption."
The bishops also denounced the state’s limited ability to exercise "its fiscal sovereignty" and the tax evaders’ "lack of moral principles and social conscience." They denounced the "systematic pattern of harassment and threats against some of those working for justice" in 2001. They criticized immoral abuse in charges for telephone and electricity services and affirmed that it is "undeniable that the demands and needs of the vast majority of poor and excluded are shunted aside when interests of personal and political-party power prevail."
This is how the bishops interpret the confrontation between the government and business: "The clear confrontation between sectors of the government and the arrogant, voracious oligarchy is nothing but another manifestation of the struggle for power and defense of hidden interests." Rarely have the bishops written words so harsh. Prensa Libre commented on them in an editorial and, with obvious disgust, asked the bishops to explain who they were referring to when they spoke of "the arrogant, voracious oligarchy."

Popularity ratings in Guatemala:
Farmers Yes, Legislators No

One interesting piece of information: in F. Noguera’s October 2001 survey, bishops and priests are seen favorably by 79% of those surveys and unfavorably by 17%, a positive balance of 62%. They are closely followed by evangelical ministers and pastors, seen favorably by 77% and unfavorably by 19%, a positive balance of 58%.

Earning even higher marks are farmers (85%), ranchers (81%), sugar producers (70%) and merchants (69%), as well as the newspapers (84%), radios (81%), journalists (72%) and television stations (70%). Lower marks went to industrialists (55%), the "private sector" (50%), NGOs (48%), the UN Mission in Guatemala MINUGUA (36%), the "public sector" (27%), the army (12%), the mayors (12%), the judges (-19%), the political parties (-49%) and the congressional representatives (-51%).

Brother Pedro is with us today

The bishops invite people to "live with a hope that is active and constructive of the good of others as long as we are in this world," and for this reason, not only to "denounce whatever attempts to attack people and their rights, but also to recover daily the moral values that should guide our coexistence and encourage relations of justice and respect."
They do so evoking the figure of the beatified Brother Pedro de Betancourt, a figure rooted in popular religion who will soon be canonized: "That poor, simple man of 17th century Guatemala seems to be visiting the streets of our consciences again at the beginning of the 21st century, to warn us of the danger of losing our soul and along with it, throwing away the future of the nation."

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