Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The new face of Guatemala

Yesterday Álvaro Colom told a local radio station that "I plan to convert Guatemala into a social democratic country with a Mayan face."

His is not an especially Mayan face of course, but the president-elect does seem to be a fully ordained Mayan priest. (Guatemalans have also been quick to point out his facial resemblance to General Miguel García Granados Zavala, president from 1871-3 and long-term incumbent of the ten Quetzal note; above.)

Whether or not his government-to-be will be strictly speaking either leftist or social democratic, it will probably be the first since popular elections were renewed in the 80s that has declared itself committed to helping the country's most impoverished groups as its #1 priority.

I am getting a real sense that the cambio so much promised by generations of Guatemalan politicians may at last be upon us and that the esperanza in UNE's campaign pledge that perhaps seemed a bit wooly before these elections is now beginning to infect all sectors of society there, even the newly-deflated, air-punching, chest-patting PP voters.

V has described Colom as 'Quixotic' (by which I think she means given to endearing fantasies) but his running mate is no Sancho Panza.

Instead, as the New York Times observed today, the future Vice President Dr Rafael Espada is perhaps the man that most embodies this potential for unifying the 'two Guatemalas'. Espada is a world-renowned cardiac surgeon and the first medic to assume the second highest office in the land. In a thirty year career (based mainly in Texas) he has regularly returned home to Guate in order to perform heart surgery on both its most and least privileged citizens. His charity operations are described in his Wikipedia article as 'gratuitous' surgery, and he was performing an average of ten of these outside the US each month before running for office with Colom.

Espada (an interesting surname for someone that opens people up) was himself was born illegitimately, his father a member of the elite who disowned him. After being brought up by his mother, he attended the public San Carlos University and through hard work, scholarships and good fortune went on to train under a noted surgeon in Houston, where he later became deputy chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the Methodist DeBakey Heart Centre. In his new role as a politician, he notes that many of Guatemala's impoverished Maya groups suffer from diseases that would elsewhere be considered more preventable.

His boss also yesterday praised the role of Cuban doctors in Guatemala and suggested that his government would expand cooperation with the socialist regime on that island, which may set a few alarm bells ringing in Washington.

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