Inevitably, Guatemala failed in each and every one of these attempts. And now, 15 years into the twenty-first century, the country is still battling one of the largest wealth gaps in Latin America and the planet.
Similar to other countries in Latin America (those that are not a part of the Western Countries and Others Group at the United Nations), modern Guatemala was born under a polarization that is inherent to all colonies. As such they are systems where a small few has access to everything and a majority had nothing. Over the course of the twentieth century, many countries transitioned reducing such contradictions to become more viable and cohesive nation-states.
Some nationalized their natural resources like Brazil, Mexico and Arab states. Many took on industrialization to create an urban middle class and reduce poverty. Others also included social reforms that redistributed wealth by means of higher salaries and increased taxation as well as low-interest loans. More than half of these countries, built nations where an overwhelming majority lived in one society.
Guatemala made several of these attempts throughout the last century. This included several democratic governments such as the Unionists in the 1920s, the 1944 revolutionaries and the Peace Accords in 1996. But they also attempted progress by way of military governments in the 1960s and 70s that also attempted to impose certain social policies as a reaction to regional geopolitics.
Inevitably, Guatemala failed in each and every one of these attempts. And now, 15 years into the twenty-first century, the country is still battling one of the largest wealth gaps in Latin America and the planet. It is a country where one percent of the population makes more than a third of the national income, according to the U.N. It is also a country where half of its children, a vast majority ethnically indigenous suffers from chronic malnutrition. Only a third of the population is registered for social security benefits, which means the majority of citizens do not belong to a pool of qualified workforce. Or what’s worse, have no security net to fall back on should they be in an accident, be a victim in a violent attack or retire. This happens in spite of the fact that they work for formal economies and employers.
This national development model, based on agricultural exports and extractive industries—such as mining and petrol, denies citizens the ability to reap its benefits by way of taxation that would lead to universal education, healthcare, and social security benefits. That’s without getting into environmental protection, public transportation and cultural investment issues.
This exclusionist model generates social discontent. And proponents of this model, governments and businesses from 1871 to 2013, have also criminalized social protest of this vision. And, that polarizes the country. A criminalization of social dissent is criminal in and of itself because it worsens social divisions. In more democratic nation-states, such divisions translate into community debates, congressional hearings. Changes take place in the very fabric of the social contract so that they benefit those less fortunate and are for the public good of the state.
Our current development model propels many Guatemalans to emigrate. Some prefer to enter an informal economy elsewhere. A smaller few, also enter the army or join criminal networks. What’s worse, this vulnerability of the state propels organized crime structures to consider Guatemala a haven of human and sexual trafficking.
This development model turned the state into a political and financial boot that has alienated society from its political representatives. It has also robbed politics of its social role to serve the people and bring together its citizens.
This is the country; the one that also has an emerging urban middle class, advances in its democracy and other social indicators, that existed on March 18 prior to the beginning of the genocide trial. It is also the country that has 15 daily murders, rampant armed robberies across the capital, and extreme poverty in an abudantly naturally rich nation. It is also the country with scandalous systemic inequality between cultures and genders. It is a country plagued by individual and social frustration.
Guatemala wasn’t a cohesive, prosperous and peaceful country before March 18. It is not a country with a common history—there isn’t even a common foundation myth across publicschool textbooks. It isn’t a country where we all fit. It isn’t a just country. And it’s certainly not a country where we are only divided because of a trial.