Elite Perceptions of the US

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American policy towards Guatemala has suffered many ups and downs


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American policy towards Guatemala has suffered many ups and downs. The Peace Accords that ended our country’s civil war in 1996 followed ten years of negotiations and 36 years of armed confrontation, all fought during a Cold War which tore at the social fabric, deepened ideological positions, racial and cultural prejudices and produced thousands of victims.

During the negotiations, I gained deeper knowledge of the indirect involvement of the US government in this conflict, seeing its participation in the Group of Friends of the Guatemalan Peace Process that always strove to maintain negotiations, despite changes in Guatemala’s government. The United States was also an important donor supporting various peace commitments linked to justice, education and health.

Today, issues such as migration and unaccompanied children are prioritized, as are the drugs trade and organized crime (mainly illegal adoptions and people trafficking). However, we have not reached the heights of financial and technical support as that given to Colombia and Mexico to fight the ailments that corrode democratic growth.

Guatemalans follow carefully the debate in Congress on the legalization of migrants, as migration due to poverty and extortion is a common aspiration. The influence migrants have on their families is important, given that their remittances create better conditions of life, provide an opportunity to communicate democratic values, and to acknowledge human rights, which unfortunately are not always respected in migrant populations.

Currently, the US government is considering possible support to the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America, consisting of $1,000 million American dollars over three years (called the Alliance for Prosperity), which basically aims to improve living conditions in the regions from which most migrants to the US come.

Our geographic proximity, the importance of their market to our economy, and the evident political influence are all key to understanding the relations between Guatemala and the United States

CAFTA has also been instrumental in diversifying exports and providing access to major markets and, economically, organizations featuring strong US influence such as the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank), World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are significant funders.

The Inter-American Dialogue and the Wilson Center (both based in Washington DC) often organize various activities such as dialogues, conferences and seminars that address issues relevant to Latin America in general, and some that concern Guatemala specifically. Faith in Practice, based in Houston, makes excellent voluntary work contributions, as well as contributions and donations in equipment and medicines to social work organizations.

Meanwhile, prestigious universities such as Pennsylvania and Notre Dame have devoted considerable financial and technical resources in supporting archaeological explorations of culturally-rich sites that deepen our sense of national identity while increasing appreciation and pride for the ancient Maya culture, the origins of our nationality. And since 2007, the US government has provided technical, financial and diplomatic support for Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), which is a key factor in strengthening our system of justice.

On internal matters the US Embassy has always played an important role, but today this has reached an unprecedented level. The mere announcement of the withdrawal of US visas causes tensions, for many cases have resulted in the extradition of organized crime bosses and even a former president of the republic, convicted for money laundering. Some international organizations based in the US, such as American Watch and Amnesty International also have an impact on issues related to their research, while prestigious newspapers such as Newsweek and the Washington Post are consulted regularly in academic circles as an information source.

Tourism in Guatemala has generated a significant flow of American visitors for many years, which in turn has seen many American political, journalistic, artistic and business figures, as well as ordinary citizens, choosing to retire to Guatemala. On their arrival, they become involved in their community, providing significant technical and economic support to different organizations.

In my own childhood we lived through American government involvement in the overthrow of President Arbenz, who was considered an ideological enemy. This historical event even now still affects the attitude of a group of citizens who harbour criticism and bitterness against the US.

But my sister married an American and has two daughters - the family resides in North Carolina -and through them I have learned the lifestyle and aspirations of a middle-class family, their efforts in obtaining opportunities for furthering study and self-improvement, a decent income and a suitable retirement.

Our geographic proximity, the importance of their market to our economy, and the evident political influence are all key to understanding the relations between Guatemala and the United States.