Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Government action and inaction

Over 50 years after the fact, the Guatemalan government is offering a formal apology to the family of former president, Jacobo Arbenz, who was deposed in a June 27, 1954 coup planned with help of the CIA. Arbenz, a military officer, was one of the leaders of the revolution of 1944, and was democratically elected to the presidency. However, he was viewed as too tolerant of (or sympathetic to) leftists, and he also promoted a modest land reform that threatened the landed elite, and, perhaps more significantly, the largest landholder in Guatemala -- U.S.-based multinational United Fruit Company. Arbenz was "allowed" or forced to leave the country together with his family (I say "allowed" to emphasize that he was not killed by the coup), and all of his goods were confiscated. He died in 1971 in exile (he was allowed to briefly return to Guatemala for a family funeral).

This act of penitence, of course, does not come out of the blue nor is it a result of the Guatemalan government just deciding to "do the right thing" -- there was a case brought against Guatemalan in the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights.

So the government can make symbolic gestures when it is forced to.

At the same time, the government seems completely incapable of taking action on behalf of its own citizens. The country has been wracked -- and I mean that quite literally -- by Tropical Depression 12-E. Over two dozen people have died as a result of landslides, mudslides, avalanches, floods, highway collapses and other "disasters" caused by the persistent rains (and the sloppy highway construction that leaves vulnerable hillsides).  The government, i.e. the president, finally declared a state of calamity nearly a week after the rains started. However, the congress of the republic failed to appropriate funds to respond to the disasters. What?  Yes, the congress was supposed to consider an initiative that would designate emergency funds. But they broke quorum last night before deciding upon the bill. Apparently there is some complication about when there can be plenary session and how much time can expire between a measure being introduced and being considered or voted upon. This also seems to be due to a dispute between the party in power, the UNE, and the largest opposition party, the Partido Patriota (which will be the majority in the new congress). I haven't read the story closely enough to understand fully the procedural issues, but it seems like a true case of goverenmental gridlock -- and a real outrage given the severity of the conditions throughout the country.

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