Cross-posted from The Guatemala Times.
Guatemala City. The Guatemalan mainstream media has unleashed an increased and endless flow of bad press for President Colom and his government since Otto Perez won the election. Just as it started out in January 2008, the mainstream media – with the only exception of La Hora, had extra-officially declared: no mercy, we take no prisoners. Very much like Fox news treated President Barak Obama when he was elected.
Guatemala’s mainstream media is owned by the status quo and defends the status quo. President Colom was always seen as a threat to the powers of Guatemala – a socialist, in the minds of the Guatemalan right - wingers that is considered the same as communist, guerilla, terrorist, anti- establishment, a menace to their power structure. He is not one of “them”, he must be the enemy.
Anyone who has the illusion that in Guatemala the President elect is the real power is a fool. The power behind the power is and always has been the Guatemalan elite, much the same as in the US, where President Obama has not been able to do anything of what he promised, because it is not convenient for the big money. It is a “moneycracy” not a democracy. Money rules, not the people.
Now the Guatemalan media smells blood and they must endear themselves to the newly elected government of Otto Perez. They are getting bolder and bolder, more offensive and disrespectful as the Presidency of Colom is coming to its end.
Nobody is more lonely then an unpopular President who is going out of office. In Guatemala we have a saying: “when the tree has fallen, everyone wants to make firewood.”
Corrution or corrupters?
Some of the criticism is legitimate; yes there was corruption under Colom. ¿More corruption then under Berger, Portillo and Arzu? We very much doubt it. The complete Guatemalan Congress is corrupt, as has been pointed out by a recent, unusually candid editorial of Prensa Libre, they described that members of congress where paid 130,000.00 quetzales to vote for the new telecommunication’s bill.
Corruption is an issue, the corruptors are another issue. We wrote back in 2008 and 2009, that the narco-gangs and transnational crime that was migrating in from Mexico would have more money then the entire country, they would be able to buy every single public official, politician and military if needed. They would infiltrate the state and the private sector. Cash is always welcome, especially in hard times.
Especially the USA did not listen, the originators of the migration of transnational crime into Guatemala, the American war on drugs in Mexico and Colombia, they pretended that it was all right, a total success, at our expense. No time to think about the countries between their “star war operations”. They forgot about Central America and just re-discover it about 2 years ago.
It was not news then. The Berger government had successfully keep the narco problem a secret, the press did not even know that he left 60% of the Guatemalan territory in the hands of transnational crime. Berger’s Vice -.President, Eduardo Stein, who benefited greatly from his experience, now heads an institution that analyses this very issue. He gave statements to the press 2 years ago where he described the situation. He told the truth too late. There is a saying, never solve a problem that can provide you with future income, Stein definitely applied that logic.
President Colom certainly did not benefit from a good debriefing in security issue form his predecessor. Colom had no idea. His issue was social justice that was his only agenda.
In normal times, it could have worked. But Colom's presidency was by far a normal presidency.
The events that defined his presidency
1. 2008 -2009 world wide economic crisis.
2. The infamous Rosenberg case that almost served the elite to topple the government. It paralyzed Guatemala for almost a year. The cost of that paralysis was enormous for the nation.
3. Natural disaster of unprecedented magnitudes, Agatha and other natural events causing billions of dollars in damages to infrastructure and production, climate change has made Guatemala the second country in the world to suffer the deadly and devastating effects.
4. Narco migration from Mexico, causing unprecedented violence and murders and using up resources for the security sector and justice sector that could have been prevented by the US, but was not.
Colom's biggest weakness, his lack of support and friendship with the military and the Guatemalan elite, ended up being his biggest strength.
Because he had nothing to loose he allowed the work of CICIG. CICIG could only prosper and gain such prominence because Colom´s government was weak in security issues. He needed CICIG and the international community to stabilize the justice sector which had been systematically weakened by his predecessors and their puppeteers.
The people who benefitted the most from impunity wanted impunity to stay in place. The military, the private sector, bankers, corrupt politicians, corrupt ex-politicians, ex- government officials, etc.
The persecution and trials of ex-military involved in massacres and genocide was only possible because of Colom's distance from the military. If Otto Perez had been elected in 2007, this would have never happened.
The unprecedented publications of the national police archives, the military plans Sofia, and many other documents from the internal conflict would have not happened without Colom.
The much celebrated Attorney General Paz y Paz would have never happened under Otto Perez.
The strengthening of the voices of human rights activists, ecological activists, and the civil sectors of society could only happen because there was a vacuum of power that was filled for the fist time by others then the military or the catholic church of Guatemala. For a brief time it was the civil society that had some voice and some power.
Colom's government for the first time in Guatemalan history provided a platform to present the reality of the internal conflict that tore the country apart for 36 years.
Social Solidarity Programs
Another of his weaknesses turned into a historical accomplishment. His ex- wife Sandra Torres was able to implement the Social Solidarity programs, against all odds. She was able to get the resources that no other government had wanted to provide for the Guatemalan poor. Colom was weak or he used her as a tool to be able to do the one thing he really believed in, a little bit of social justice. What Sandra Torres did is historically unprecedented. What she is as a person, more good or more evil, history will decide.
Much can be criticized about this government, many accidents and unforeseen international and national events took Colom by surprise, just as they did to other presidents in the world.
We think that corrupters and bribers are the source of the problem, much more so than the corrupted.
But it is sexy to report about corruption, it is not sexy to report about the corruptors and bribers. They are known to the journalists, here in Guatemala and in most countries, there is a bribery index developed by Transparency International and Global Integrity, the emphasis is on the corrupted, never on the bribers.
That has to change, the cause of corruption are the corruptors, not the other way around.
Just like the drug war problem, the cause of the problem are the user countries, not the transit countries that don’t even get the economic benefit, only the violence, as a return of that scourge.
President Colom had a turbulent, difficult presidency. His team was extremely mediocre, disloyal and in most instances self-serving, betraying the president. It has nauseating to watch many ministers and members of congress only serving their own interests and sacrificing the country. Should these people go to jail for their criminal acts? Absolutely. But then we have to apply the same rules to all members of previous governments in the executive, legislative and justice branches.
Only history can tell the impact of what Colom achieved by accident or intend. History will be the judge, never the media.
Barbara Schieber is Guatemalan, she is a Physician and has a Masters in Education, Evaluation and Research. Her work has been as international expert and activist for Maternal Mortality and Women’s rights. She was a columnist, then she founded her own news site, The Guatemala Times, the only news outlet in English, a window of Guatemala to the world, it is run as a volunteer organization.