Three challenges for the new Government


A few years ago, I participated in an interesting workshop on Public Policies and Development. The event facilitator asked us attendees if we knew what “the north” meant. We all nodded, it was a simple question. Then, she asked us to close our eyes and with our right hand we pointed out, according to us, where north was located. This part was the most difficult. Not all of us were sure how to locate ourselves spatially or where north was based on our position. When we opened our eyes – still with each one’s hand pointing to our north – some pointed forward, others to the right, some to the left, some even pointed backwards… “Development is similar to this” said the facilitator. “Even though we have the same concept in the way we get to it, it is where it is, where we have differences,” she asserted.

Challenge 1

On December 7, the “March for Democracy” was held in Guatemala City, called by the elected presidential duo (Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera), Ancestral Authorities (from Totonicapán, Quiché, Sololá, Izabal and Escuintla among other departments) and civil society organizations. This as part of the process of resistance to the questionable actions of the Public Ministry (MP), the Constitutional Court (CC) and the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) and a certain faction of the Judicial Branch (OJ), within the framework of the transition of government 2024-2028.

During this march, former presidential candidates such as Edmond Mulet of the Cabal party were also present; former presidential candidates, such as Roberto Arzú and former public officials such as Ascisclo Valladares. The participation of the latter generated displeasure and controversy among some of those attending the march, since they were described as opportunists and as representatives of traditional Guatemalan politics. Social networks were also divided: while some described Arévalo as lukewarm – or even a traitor – for coming together and sharing the stage with characters like Mulet, Arzú or Valladares, others commented on the importance of achieving democracy for all and reaching agreements between the different sectors that make up Guatemalan society in pursuit of democracy. Some actions of the president-elect had previously been questioned, especially regarding the rapprochements that he has sought with the United States Government and with some Guatemalan business chambers. The question then is, with which sectors should consensus be sought and with which sectors should not? Can we create a government for everyone and at the same time a government that breaks with traditional politics?

The Political Constitution of the Republic establishes that the President represents national unity. This is in principle quite understandable. But, to the extent that it is analyzed in detail, how it can be translated into reality, high complexities arise. Firstly, representing national unity is not one of the presidential functions, but is considered a fact; The verb is not written in the future “will represent” but in the present: “represents”. This gives us an idea that it is taken for granted that a national unity already exists. This is the first gap between what is prescribed in the law and the context. Because in the country there is not one but multiple realities, some diametrically opposed and even in confrontation with others. Each reality is shaped by economic, historical, cultural and ethnic aspects, among others.

While the terms “State” and “Government” refer to the political institutions where “power” is concentrated, speaking of the Nation refers to the level of the citizens, of the people. Not only of the people as the origin of political power, but the people as a group of individuals united by common traits and feelings. Therefore, the construction of a national unity requires in principle the recognition of the different nations that inhabit the Guatemalan State, not only in its existence but fundamentally in the co-government with each of these nations, understanding that there are different perspectives of Law. and development equally valid as those of the current Western model. It is not about putting one people, one ethnic group or one nation over or against another; It is about respecting the self-determination of each nation and achieving harmonization of diverse cultural perspectives. This is then the first challenge of the next government: to achieve the belonging and participation of the various nations in the same State that guarantees equality of Rights and material conditions.

Challenge 2

On the other hand, national unity is impossible when there is so much material inequality, when the conditions for development are so dissimilar, because if a small group concentrates the highest incomes, the majority of society will be in full struggle for its survival. Although it is true that Guatemala has managed to reduce its economic inequality indexes from 58.3 (in 1986) to 48.3 (2014, latest data obtained from the World Bank), our country continues to be the second most unequal in Central America and the fourth in Latin America. This is then the second challenge of the next government: to build national unity by reducing inequality and achieving equitable and proportional tax collection, where privileges for the groups that concentrate wealth are eliminated and resources are optimized. The fight against inequality is not about – as some maliciously declare – about making the rich poor, but about eliminating all types of fiscal favoritism for large companies and facilitating productivity processes for small business owners, for ordinary citizens, who are the majority. The smaller the inequality gap, the greater national unity will be achieved.

Challenge 3

It is in terms of the leadership that must be represented at the state level. The President of the Republic, like every high-ranking public servant, has two important tasks that are combined in their duties but differ in terms of the field of analysis: the administrative function and the political function. Regarding administration, he must lead the analysis, planning, budget, execution and evaluation of public service programs (education, health, culture, etc.) for the inhabitants. This is reflected in the efficient, effective, relevant and responsible use of public resources. But he is also the Head of State of Guatemala. This is the political function; ensure that each and every citizen feels identified and hopeful with the direction the country is taking by providing clear guidelines and supporting these with key and forceful actions. Neither the president of the Judicial Branch nor the Legislative Branch have as much influence on the popular imagination as the President of the Executive Branch has. The bar is quite low. For the second year in office, according to the CID-Gallup company (August 2021), Alejandro Giammattei barely had 21% approval and 79% of Guatemalans were already disappointed in him. If Arévalo and Herrera manage to maintain a minimum of coherence between their speech and his actions, it is likely that they will achieve a higher percentage than this.

On December 8, the MP, in a poorly founded “investigation”, alleged the annulment of the elections for president, vice president, deputies and mayors, leaving the democratic future of the country in doubt. Although it is true that there is no certainty that Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera will lead a good government, it is important to remember that respect for the popular will – right or wrong – is a fundamental principle of democracy. And that the challenges that a country has are not a magical request to be fulfilled every day, but rather a constant demand that must be remembered daily and attended to daily by the authorities. Only in this way will a democratic bridge for development be achieved.

Fredy Pastor. Consultant in Human Rights, Public Policies and Popular Education. Student of Legal and Social Sciences.