My first trips to Guatemala were just after the country had signed peace accords to end their 36-year civil war. The country was starting over with the first democratic elections in about 40 years. Everyone was hopeful for a successful rebuilding of the social infrastructure.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Elections were held and new administrations were elected every four years, but the power was always in the hands of the very wealthy, the military, organized crime or a combination of each. Corruption became pervasive. Many of the past presidents spent time in jail and those who didn’t go to jail probably should have.
An example of corruption in Ixcán was a new, and badly needed hospital, which was started in 2015. Due to mishandling of funds by a government official in awarding contracts for the construction, today the “new”hospital stands about 50% completed in a field of weeds. No work has been done in about 4 or 5 years. It’s waiting for a court to resolve the misdeeds. But, the courts have been corrupt, too.
Corruption has been so common that it became taken for granted. Each new administration acted with impunity and pretty soon it became the norm; the way things work in Guatemala. Amongst the people of Ixcán, resignation had set in. Poverty, crime and migration to the U.S. are some of the results.
This month something new happened. Of the 20 or so political parties, one reform-minded party, called Semilla (seed), came out of nowhere and gained enough votes to force a run off between the top 2 presidential candidates. The Semilla candidate was so insignificant to the ruling parties of the corrupt past that they didn’t recognize him as a threat.
Last Sunday Bernardo Arévalo, the Semilla candidate won the election, beating out one of the traditional parties by over 20 percentage points. He did it running on a promise to stop the corruption. The people have spoken. Now it remains to be seen if Arévalo can live up to his promise.
Arévalo’s father was the first democratically elected president of Guatemala in 1944. His administration and the one following it became known as the 10 years of democratic spring, only to be overthrown by the CIA in 1954.
Hopes are high in Ixcán that the second Arévalo can be as successful as his father. I’m happy for my friends in Ixcán that there is a chance for change, for a change.
Scott Pike, founder of Enfoque Ixcán