As the saying goes: We live in a small world and, as we are constantly reminded, it is forever getting smaller. The talk on Guatemalan foreign policy served as an insight into the running of a country which, albeit on the other side of the world from Scotland, has national values and beliefs that are just as important as those of any other country, even after years of corruption and impunity.
The event, the Question of Impunity, was co-organised and hosted by the St Andrews International Politics Association and the Central America Initiative. The speakers were His Excellency Aciscio Valladeres, the current Guatemalan ambassador to the United Kingdom and His Excellency Carlos Raul Morales, first minister to Guatemala.
The presentation focused on the current political state of Guatemala. His Excellency Carlos Morales began by depicting some statistics to the audience. Starting with a geographical description of the country’s 23 ethnic groups, 16 million people and thousands of miles of jungle, he then put into context Guatemala’s recent and current political turmoil, which is to say, the thirty-six years of conflict during the Civil War, including the massacre of the Mayan population. His Excellency Morales described how such catastrophes can lead a nation to be ruled by instability and fear rather than good governance, as the end of the conflict led to corruption in Guatemala.
In a spirit that was very apt given the recent crisis in Paris, the focus of the talk was the task of re-building a country’s political and economic strength after such crises. A key issue tackled by His Excellency Morales was the number of emigrants fleeing to the U.S. border.
“For a poor person born in Guatemala today there are two options”, he said gravely. “Work in the fields or go to the U.S. in the hope of finding work.” He talked about the poor quality of life in Guatemala, saying since the government provides so few services for its citizens, the citizens carry out illegal activities in order to leave. In 2014, an estimated 17,000 Guatemalans left in search of the ‘American Dream’. One way of solving this problem, he stated, was to improve the quality of life and work in Guatemala so that fewer people would feel the need to leave.
As highlighted by His Excellency Morales, Guatemala’s main problems are drug trafficking, people trafficking and emigration, as well as natural disasters, including the dangers of the country’s 42 volcanoes, tropical disasters and earthquakes. However, progressive measures have been taken in tackling these issues including a treaty signed in 2007 with the fixed intentions of limiting drug trafficking and poverty, and the replacement of President Otto Pérez Molina, who was accused of corruption, with President Alejandro Maldonado.
Delivering a talk in one of the world’s most developed countries, the problems that His Excellency Morales and Ambassador Valladeres highlighted might seem a million miles away from the privileged lives that we lead in St. Andrews, but his talk was an insightful reminder of how people in developing countries still live and the problems they face, even in 2015.
Additionally, the excellently co-ordinated evening with speeches by Their Excellencies emphasised the challenges of a small country working to improve the quality of life, work and prospects for its citizens and, simultaneously, stabilising itself in a globalised era whose principles are under threat from a world where, with increasing methods of communication and technology, the many values and cultures are slowly merging.
Featured images from International Politics Association and Facebook event