Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Guatemala Untapped


"Ignorantes" is possibly a rather harsh way of referring to many of the people trapped in a localised rural economy with little immediate possibility for development.

Of these there are plenty in Guatemala, and ever since the system of adult suffrage was exported by the developed western world to countries where endemic economic and cultural conditions were less than ideal, there have been entirely predictable difficulties.

Arévalo sometimes talks as if corruption can be turned off like a tap, having pinpointed specific interested groups like organised crime and monopolised business as the root cause of it all.

Yet writing in March 1954 for the Sunday Times — as Vietnam's search for a lasting model of independence developed into a bigger war — Graham Greene suggested that any country with large numbers of illiterate peasants living at the edge of subsistence will not take well to a system based on voting, organised political parties and so on. 
"Any Government with a genuine programme of reform faces a blank wall, a time-limit, the knowledge that beyond a certain point lies the wilderness...In Europe, a strong Government is one with popular support: here a strong Government is a group of individuals with a common aim and determination, free from corruption and free from the necessity of clinging to office for the sake of the perquisites.

"Never before in Vietnam has there been a Government with a common aim; for every previous Govern­ment has included the sects, and there is little in common between the Caodaists, the Hoa Haas and the Catholics. One doubts, too, if there has ever before been a Government free from serious corruption, and certainly none where the chief Ministers were indifferent to the fruits of office."
Greene understood developmental issues as a chicken and egg conundrum. Change was needed before change could be imposed.

Vietnam lacked many of the conditions Guatemala currently blames for its corrupted state, and yet was still extremely corrupt.

Semilla's little shoot will only turn into a proper Spring if Arévalo is somehow able to kick start a developmental surge which outlasts a four year term and lays down conditions where institutions can offer an improved function, almost like they do in say Uruguay!

I suspect that "los mismos de siempre" in Guatemala feel threatened by him and his party not because he will get his hand firmly on the corruption tap (he won't), but because his programme portends a radical change in the way politics are done here relative to the disjointed conditions on the ground. A change that could be hard to reverse.

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