Monday, October 22, 2007

Come Back Mary Anastasia, we miss you!

One of the very weirdest things about the WSJ editorial pages is the surrealistic Latin America column by the redoubtable Mary Anastasia O'Grady. However, today, in her absence, a guest column by Manuel Ayau may well be the worst thing ever published on those pages (which is really saying something).

The column has two points, viz. what Guatemala needs is less civilian government and more Army!!

Guatemalans will vote in a presidential runoff election on Nov. 4 and as of now, center-right, retired military general, Otto Perez Molina appears to have a slight lead over the moderate, center-left candidate Alvaro Colom. At a time when Latin America is supposedly surging to the left, Mr. Perez Molina's strong campaign is instructive. So too is the fact that in the first-round vote Guatemalans widely rejected the four extreme left-wing candidates, giving them less than 6% of the vote. Candidate Rigoberta Menchu managed a mere 3.1%, suggesting that Guatemalans are not nearly as impressed with the Nobel Peace Prize winner as the international community is. Another interesting outcome of the first round was the substantial support for retired military candidates for congress, and for Mr. Perez Molina, in regions that were supposedly victimized by the army in the past.


If the good news here is that socialists aren't all that popular, the bad news is that this reality is not reflected in our institutions, where socialist ideas remain deeply imbedded (Sic). Even though voters go to the polls every four or five years with hopes raised that an honest, capable person will come to power and preside over a more just society, they are always disappointed. Changing the managers without changing the institutional framework is like changing the driver when a car keeps breaking down. Even if the more market- oriented Mr. Perez Molina wins, Guatemala won't begin to make real progress until it amends crucial aspects of its 1985 constitution.

Many Marxist ideas survive because it is hard to change the legal culture established in the heyday of socialism, when lawyers and politicians were trained that it is the government's task to solve all problems. Our constitution pays lip service to the rights of the citizens but regulates every aspect of daily life, including working hours, leisure time, social security and policies in education, banking and culture. Even sports must receive 3% of the budget. Using these constitutional mandates, legislators expand their power and further interfere in private, peaceful transactions. In fact, lawmakers are duty bound to do so.......

Historically, when police have lost control of law and order, Guatemalans clamor for the army as the authority of last resort, much like Americans rely on the National Guard to control riots or widespread violence. Here, too, the country has been hamstrung by the remnants of socialism. Ever since the military defeated the subversive movements of the Cold War, left-wing international organizations and foreign governments have insisted on crippling the institution. Today the military is reluctant to take action and be subject to antimilitary international criticism. Guatemalans, however, know that before and during the years of subversive activities the armies were a civilizing force; this is evidenced by the popularity of ex-military candidates in elections.

All of this is pretty amazing.

"In regions that were supposedly victimized by the Army in the past"

"Guatemalans clamor for the army as the authority of last resort, much like Americans rely on the National Guard to control riots or widespread violence."

Wow. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the US national guard has wiped out villages and left mass graves behind (in the US at least). Nor do I think the word "supposedly" belongs in the first quote either.

Here is an alternative perspective: In its final report, the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH- Guatemalan Truth Commission) concluded that army massacres had destroyed 626 villages, more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared, 1.5 million were displaced by the violence, and more than 150,000 were driven to seek refuge in Mexico. Further, the Commission found the state responsible for ninety-three percent of the acts of violence and the guerrillas (URNG-Guatemalan Revolutionary Union) responsible for three percent.

Shame on Manuel Ayau and shame on the WSJ for printing this trash. All I can say is thank God the Guatemalan army is now "reluctant to take action"

I also wonder what Ayau thinks governments do in other countries: "Our constitution pays lip service to the rights of the citizens but regulates every aspect of daily life, including working hours, leisure time, social security and policies in education, banking and culture."

All these things may not be directly in constitutions, they are certainly in the purview of most governments today (note I am NOT saying that they should be). The US government certainly regulates working hours, leisure time (can't buy drugs, gamble wherever you want, consort with courtesans), social security, education, banking, and culture.

LOL, I guess we are all "marxists" now.





2 comments:

Fundman said...

Setting aside your points about the articles flaws, what would be your solution to Guatemala's endemic violence and crime problems? If you lived there, who would you have voted for?

Angus said...

I don't think there are easy answers. I have only visited Guatemala once for two weeks in 1999. I don't vote here so I probably wouldn't vote there.

It seems like LA countries with big marginalized indigeneous populations have big problems. Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, even Mexico.

You gotta have institutions that command respect across a wide swath of society and you gotta have a legal path to survival/success for everyone.