The US and its business partners in Guatemala
The US and its business partners in Guatemala
The United States government is resetting its relationship with Central America. And everybody (myself included) rushes to tell it what to do. Of course, it is one thing to speak, quite another to be heard.
Before Trump, three things stood out in the media about Washington’s agenda for Guatemala: drug trafficking, corruption and undocumented migrants (i.e., poor migrants). As with a sound system, Trump simply twiddled with the buttons that were already there. He let the war against drug trafficking continue more or less as he found it. He turned the anti-corruption knob to zero so abruptly that it broke, and so helped the insufferable Morales expel Cicig. And he turned the volume of the persecut...
Before Trump, three things stood out in the media about Washington’s agenda for Guatemala: drug trafficking, corruption and undocumented migrants (i.e., poor migrants). As with a sound system, Trump simply twiddled with the buttons that were already there. He let the war against drug trafficking continue more or less as he found it. He turned the anti-corruption knob to zero so abruptly that it broke, and so helped the insufferable Morales expel Cicig. And he turned the volume of the persecution against migrants up to 11.
Biden turns the knobs more carefully. But make no mistake: no one is asking us if we like the music being played. He’s adjusting the controls according to what he believes is best for the US. The statements from the State Department and Juan González about Mynor Moto’s election make it clear that attention to anti-corruption is again on the rise. And cancelling the disgraceful safe third country agreement helps lower the volume on immigration. And about narcotics..., we'll see. Policymakers in the US still can’t stomach what needs to be done and reverse the continuously counterproductive war on drugs. And so the issue languishes.
However, there are at least two major problems in all of this. The first one is that, once things are broken, it’s not enough to try to adjust them. Trump, in his clumsiness, let Cicig break despite the fact that in the last quarter of century it was the only demonstrably effective means to pursue elite narco-corruption. It had both a national institutional base and multilateral support. The shortsightedness of politicians and legislators in the US in letting it collapse means that today whatever is tried —be it a regional commission or an office deep within the US Embassy— will have to work with a Guatemalan state that is even more captured, more resistant to reform, and with even less effective institutions than in the past.
Consider the US today trying to work with Consuelo Porras as the Attorney General in Guatemala, as compared to working with Thelma Aldana and Cicig. Anything the Biden administration tries will have to be designed around dealing with an untrustworthy partner. But perhaps they’re used to it by now. It’s not that different from working with Mitch McConnell's Republican Party. Perhaps it’s just a matter of discovering the subtle pleasures of getting in bed with a scorpion.
The second problem is that it’s one thing to adjust the volume of the radio and quite another to focus on what is being broadcast. The United States’ concern for justice in Guatemala is a matter of volume, not of content. If you will pardon the pun, let’s say that what is important is literally imported (and of course, also exported). The real action is in investment and business.
Certainly the US prefers to trade with a Guatemalan government that is just and respectful of human rights. But, as it has shown throughout its history and around the globe, it is perfectly willing to hold its nose and put up with the stench if the deal is good enough. And in Guatemala big business continues to be done with Cacif and the elite it represents.
Make no mistake: changing the United States’ relationship with Guatemala —both for good and for the better— requires talking about business and investment. It’s not enough to talk about justice or human rights, education and health, indigenous identities and cultures. Changing Guatemala’s relationship with the United States forever and for the better would require that Washington acknowledges the need to speak with new trading partners in Guatemala. But that would require that, in Guatemala, the US could actually find other business partners —so far conspicuous by their absence— with whom it could talk. Partners that are modern, visible and organized. And, above all, partners that are bold.
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Read it also in Spanish.