Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 190 | Mayo 1997



Peace Built on a Time Bomb

This important declaration published by the Archdiocesan Human Rights Office on March 10 under the title "On the Socioeconomic Problems and Their Alternatives" is an analysis/proposal about Guatemala's reality three months after peace was signed. We have translated it in its entirety, adding subtitles.

Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric of Guatemala

These first months of 1997, in which three generations of Guatemalans are living together without armed conflict for the first time, have not, as we would have hoped, been full of enjoyment, harmony, or happiness. A sense of anguish, fear and poverty has been accentuated among the people. This is because the family economy continues to be severely punished by the price increases for food and basic services, and sources of employment are scarce and badly paid. Furthermore, people's fundamental rights are still being abused. There is almost no place where one can feel safe from theft, kidnapping, threats and aggression.

Culture of Violence

Armed conflict as a source of human rights violations has ended, and we must certify with satisfaction that no forced disappearance was reported to our office in 1996. There was also a notable drop in accusations of extralegal executions, torture and threats for political reasons. However, what we have inherited from these 36 years of armed conflict is a culture of violence, intolerance and impunity, which nested in the state counterinsurgency units and has now extended to public agents and ex-agents, as well as to private citizens.

Today's principal limitation to fighting the organized crime that is indiscriminately attacking the entire population is found in the system of prevention, prosecution and conviction of delinquents, not only of those who carry out the criminal acts, but also those who order them. The government has taken steps in the right direction to disarticulate organized bands of common criminals, but the way they do this not only does not contribute to a culture of law and democracy, but makes the established legal procedure impossible.

This is dangerous, because it exacerbates anarchy and violent solutions. The rule of law cannot allow 20% of the adult population, private citizens, to carry arms, 10% of them illegally. Many civil patrol members and army specialists have been allowed to keep their weapons when they are discharged from duty. A society building peace cannot promote street lynching -one every four days in the last two months- even of women. What aberration is this, when society must become criminal, torturing, massacring, beating, to punish the real or supposed criminals? Towards what state of barbarity are we headed?
The fight against impunity and dismantling of the "parallel state" of mafias entrenched in the areas of intelligence, customs and others, have clear political limits established by group interests. The justice system has no power over them.

"Security" Must Be Redefined

We need an integral justice system. Security begins in the stomach, with the satisfaction of basic needs. A people without social protection, without a solid material base that offers them a future, is a people that walks on the edge. And on those paths solidarity is lost and Christian values are degraded, as are all those values that deserve to be called universal. The undervaluing of life that we Guatemalans show -and that before we blamed only on the state- is the most alarming aspect of our self-destruction as a society.

That is why it is critical to entirely refocus the currently prevailing view of security. Once again, urgent issues are postponing important issues. We will not gain security by creating a Praetorian guard. Nor will we correct the thieves by punishing theft with ubiquitous laws (An allusion to the arbitrary and cruel measures of General Jorge Ubico, President of Guatemala in the 1940s). Nor will creating faceless judges get the courts to function. Nor by imposing the death penalty will kidnapping cease. It is not by "killing the dog that rabies is destroyed." While it is true that we need an effective police force, an efficient Public Ministry and serious and capable judges, we must be careful not to fall into authoritarian temptations. These turn against human beings if they lose their sense of service and become only instruments of power. That would have a dangerous regressive effect in a country still entangled with militarism, just as would attacking and diminishing press freedom.

A Million Uprooted People

Added to the state of psychosis because of public insecurity, the citizenry is suffering job insecurity and lean incomes, which generate family stress that has repercussions in family tensions and violence. For every 10 workers, less than 3 have a secure job. Workers have an average salary of 890 quetzals a month, and agricultural workers earn only 420 quetzals (1 dollar=6 quetzals). That income is totally insufficient to acquire the products in the basic market basket, whose cost is no lower than 1,500 quetzals in the city and 800 quetzals in the rural areas. Official inflation data for the last five years indicates that the prices of vegetables, basic grains, package goods, chicken, beef and cooking oil have increased an average of 70%. Salaries, on the other hand, are increasing much more slowly.

Productive activities in agriculture and industry have fallen. Work on the southern coast is no longer an alternative for peasants from the highlands. Added to this, the war has left over a million people who lost land, houses, goods, crops and animals, and live with their dignity wounded. The uprooted population has not been taken into account in its true magnitude. A serious policy, one not manipulated for party benefits, is needed to reinsert the victims of the conflict.

Ostentation and Extravagance

Honorable people have to work very hard to survive. Official statistics say that not only two salaries, but workdays of 12 to 15 hours, in precarious working conditions, with no labor protection (or vacations, medical insurance or overtime pay) are needed to earn the minimum goods for family consumption. The population is suffering an accelerated physical and psychological erosion. In contrast, however, great ostentation, excessive luxury consumption and much money is circulating in the country. Many speculative activities offer easy money, but do not resolve the problems of investment, jobs and savings. Speculation and extravagance have a cost for the economy, in terms of both productive and occupational leftovers, and of the loss of productive and enterprising capitalists with a social commitment.

To summarize: a dangerous climate of social ungovernability that annuls and destroys efforts to build a firm and lasting peace in our country is being generated by the economic depression, huge income inequities, accelerated inflation, lack of jobs, precariousness of land for peasants and markets for their products; restrictions on public spending in order to resolve financial deficits; low levels in food, health and environment indicators; deterioration in basic health, education, potable water, housing, transport, electric energy and communications services; persistent impunity and the inability of institutions to prevent, prosecute and convict the material and intellectual authors of crimes.

The State is Needed

Current government policies are based on a concept of market economy in which the state should play a subsidiary and facilitating role. There is, however, no coherence between this concept and the deliberate effort to reduce and weaken the state's regulatory capacity, without which the market economy cannot function healthily.

Public sector reform is indispensable, but it should not be limited only to reducing labor costs, increasing domestic consumption tariffs, subsidizing interest groups and selling national goods. A state is needed that is capable of creating consensus and promoting short-term economic management compatible with the objectives of modern, inclusive and equitable development. The state must be agile, decentralized, with real spaces for participation and mechanisms of transparency and control.

In Guatemala we are living once more the consequences of the elites' inability to reach consensus on how to lead the country, and we are burdened with an authoritarian culture that has weakened civil institutions. If we continue on the current path of designing economic policy to favor those groups with most resources, the entire country will be seriously threatened with a return to society under the purest "Darwinian law" in which only the strongest will survive.

A market economy cannot be developed in Guatemala without also developing an effective strategy to reduce the power of monopolies and oligopolies. Accords with pressure groups and the protection of certain economic interests distorts the market and prevents the emergence of transparent and stable institutions and rules. Many of the monopolies and oligopolies survive thanks not to their greater efficiency but to their higher quota of representation in the state. A sustainable development strategy can only be based on an efficient market with equal opportunities for all.

The government must examine itself critically and correct the economic policies currently in effect. It should take into account that in this country, with such pronounced social inequality, the application of orthodox structural adjustment programs that put the costs on the majority of the population has grave consequences of atomization, decomposition and devaluation of the values in our society. At the same time, we insist, it is a powerful time bomb in which pressure is building that, once released, is uncontrollable.

The experience of the majority of Latin American countries that have tried to follow this same path of such unequal social structures demonstrates that, even when macroeconomic indicators grow, it does not signify an improvement in the living standard of the majority of the population. Unfortunately, the problem will also not be resolved through social compensation; only by changing the concept of development can it be intercepted.

Promoting a sustainable development strategy requires a strong, if perhaps not large state. Strong because it is aware of the priorities of a multiethnic and pluricultural nation, and able to reach consensus among social forces. What is required is to reconstruct the economic machinery and put it at the service of human development, above all for the weakest and those with the greatest need.

Neoliberal Recipes Do Not Work

It is not feasible in Guatemala to promote the neoliberal paradigm that guarantees that greater trade openings, more privatization of public property and greater reduction of direct fiscal burdens will create more incentives for capital, more investment and employment and a drop in poverty. This is not possible because our productive business sector is weakened, our human capital is extenuated and our culture of domestic investment and savings is limited. The state cannot reduce itself to maintaining the economic infrastructure and giving exclusively technical solutions to public insecurity by strengthening the security forces and implementing a more repressive policy against crime. That would be a return to October 19, 1944.

Poverty cannot be treated through marginal solutions. Social funds have also not been very effective. Last year social funds only implemented 45% of their investment budget. Among them, FODIGUA only invested 34%, FONAPAZ 38% and FIS 9%. On the other hand, foreign aid is not going to resolve our problems because in the majority they are credits that will have to be paid by future generations.

The Aid Trick

Poverty must be addressed with an overall focus, and that is only possible by reversing the development concept currently being imposed on us. The great trick is that the public budget and foreign aid are daily absorbed more by palliatives, without resolving the problems themselves, and in exchange the public deficit and debt open other holes and work against the objective of economic stability.

The important and valuable international cooperation that has been announced for the next years, instead of offering a solution, could become part of the problem. While it is true that our country needs and will continue to need foreign aid because of our historic institutional, production and savings backwardness, it is critical to review the modality of contributions to development. Many times it occurs that if there is no equitable development plan, the aid substitutes for the plan, or reproduces inequalities.

Dependence on foreign aid does not favor the search for solutions based on one's own work. The use and distribution of resources, like fiscal policy, accommodate easily to cooperation, making the coherence of an equitable development policy based on domestic resources very difficult.

Taxes and Public Spending

It is important to reorient public spending so that it can play an active role in the country's development without compromising the development of future generations. It should be directed to activities that generate employment and have a low content of imported inputs, as well as to maintain and construct infrastructure works. It should be oriented to combating the critical gaps in food, health, housing, education and social development. In the third place, it should establish the basis of scientific and technological development to increase the productivity and competitiveness of small and medium enterprises, cooperatives and other popular associative forms.

It is critical to promote fiscal reform to develop a progressive tax base linked to business income and profits, and at the same time lower taxes on the consumption and income of the least favored sectors, as well as on the reinvested profits of businesses. Financial speculation must be discouraged, which could be done through a tax on stock market operations. There has to be a negotiation strategy to pay the domestic debt so as to alleviate the pressure on public spending and use income from selling state properties for social impact programs. It is also important to create conditions to delegate collection and participation in spending in the regions, so as to promote regional development programs and support the poorest regions, both indigenous and ladino.

Deeper Reflection Is Needed

It is important to promote a policy that classifies liquidity in the economy, directing domestic credit to long-term productive activities. The Bank of Guatemala should become a real instrument of a sustainable development policy, and should implement an exchange policy that avoids brusque devaluations and discourages capital flight. A policy to lower interest rates is urgently needed, to separate them from the need to attract speculative capital.

For our country to be viable, we must not forget to strengthen the domestic market. Workers' salary levels need to be under constant review. Current privatization processes should be reversed -EEGSA (energy), GUATEL (telecommunications) and others- until they are subject to a framework that redefines the role of public enterprises in development and a broad administrative reform is discussed. And until transparent and effective citizen controls are established for the use of public resources, so as to prevent corruption and the strengthening of private monopolies. Effective anti-monopoly legislation should be issued and applied.

A clear policy toward the industrial and agricultural sector should be designed, taking into account the development and assimilation of national technological capacity, which allows the construction of productive chains. Modernizing work relations and land use are indispensable steps. An integral agrarian policy is thus needed that looks at human needs inherent to agriculture as well as sustaining and improving natural resources.

We believe that without a deeper reflection on economic, social and human development options, discussed openly among all sectors, the opportunity of building peace can, lamentably, be lost. The current economic policy is impulsive and fragmented and is divorced from social policy.

Never Another War

Nobody wants Guatemala to repeat the history of economic and social depression, of disenchantment and frustration that neighboring countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador have experienced, which also left behind bloody armed conflicts. Nobody who loves this country wants economic and social exclusion to lead to another war.
To all Guatemalans we say, as the bishops said to us in their pastoral letter titled "True Peace is Called For": "It is urgent that we all work for peace in Guatemala." And we want to emphasize this necessity by repeating the words of Pope John Paul II, who said to us very clearly: "A true peace is not possible if there is no promotion, at all levels, of the recognition of the dignity of the human person, offering to each individual the possibility of living according to this dignity."

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