Obama, Otto Pérez Molina and biting the hand that fed you
I was shocked to see Otto Perez Molina attempting to use The Guardian to build the case for extracting billions of dollars in “aid” from the Obama Administration. Since I consider most of Perez Molina’s claims dubious I would like to set the record straight. I trust that anyone with access to the internet should be able to corroborate my counterclaims.
Perez Molina’s version of reality is disingenuous at best. Yes, U.S. interventions in Guatemala since 1954 have been disastrous to say the least, but it is common knowledge that extreme poverty, exploitation and obscene inequality in Guatemala predate the Monroe Doctrine. To say that the Guatemalan conflict was “created by communist and anti-communist ideologies” is not only false, but also a lame attempt to divert responsibility from where it rightfully belongs.
The recent history of Guatemala may be complicated, but that is no reason to distort the facts to accommodate a political (or business) agenda. In 1944 a popular rebellion brought down a semi feudal dictatorship that had governed the country for many decades. The Guatemalan elite (that was affected by the new regime) immediately begun to conspire with some US businesses to label the 1944 movement as “communist”. The goal was to persuade the Eisenhower administration to help them get rid of Jacobo Arbenz, the “red menace in our backyard”. During the McCarthy years this was not hard to do. Edward Bernays himself created the anti communist propaganda bombs that were to be dropped from high profile media bombers such as the New York Times. An economic blockade and military threats followed. Arbenz fell shortly after.
The status quo did not waste any time going back to their semi feudal ways. Just like with Iraq, the world would find out many years later that the US intervention was based on false pretenses, and that Moscow had nothing to do with the 1944 movement. But it was too late, the damage was done.
The above background is important because it is still tied to today’s politics in Guatemala. The migrant child crisis is a mere consequence of the failed economic policies of a government that –save for the 1944-1954 period— has always been controlled by backward economic elites that see their poor countrymen as an unlimited source of cheap labor that should always be available to subsidize their anti-economic business model. The fact that Perez Molina does not say a single word about the role that his political masters play on the human tragedy of the migrant children speaks volumes.
The fact that Perez Molina represents the interests of the economic elite cannot be emphasized enough. According to CEPAL, tax revenue in Guatemala for 2011 was estimated at 10.9 percent of GDP, one of the lowest rates in Latin America. To put in perspective, revenue as percentage of GDP in the UK for the same year was 36 percent. What this means in practical terms is that Guatemala is a laissez-faire paradise where the elite virtually does not pay taxes. All kinds of exemptions, incentives, tax credits and amnesties ensure that most business do not pay more than 5 percent of gross revenue in taxes.
As if the revenue issue weren’t bad enough, in 2012 Perez Molina increased the tax incentives for the elite that was already paying close to nothing. The result has been a disaster. As I type this letter the government is frantically trying to obtain loans to finance its day to day operations. For this reason alone, Perez Molina’s attempts to shift the blame for his failed economic policies ring hollow.
The claim that the Guatemalan government has failed to develop basic health and education programs because of the U.S. wars is utterly false. As I said before, this was not being done way before the cold war. The suggestion that the Guatemalan government was forced to spend more money on defense and security (by the US wars) is at the very least hypocritical coming from a man that made his priority from day one to beef up the army and the police at the expense of education and health.
Perez Molina is right when he points out that countries like Guatemala pay a huge human price for the drug habits of rich countries; however, he fails to mention that drug trafficking exploits the permanent crisis created by the incompetent elites that he represents. The sad reality is that in many remote locations drug trafficking provides the economic opportunities that government and private businesses fail to deliver.
Perez Molina is smart enough to understand that the migrant child crisis is a political hot potato in the US. He knows that Barack Obama does not have a lot of room for action. The opportunity to pounce and extract billions of dollars from it is now. According to Alan Nairn (The Nation, 1995) during the counter insurgency days Perez Molina was a US intelligence asset. One can only conclude that it is much easier for Perez Molina to beg (or extort?) billions of dollars from Barack Obama than it is to ask the Guatemalan elite to pay taxes. He will not bite the hand that feeds him, the hand that fed him is fair game.
To be sure, the U.S. bears much responsibility for the current crisis. Many injustices and abuses were committed in the name of US national security. The US should be held responsible for putting itself on the wrong side of history and for setting the clock back at least four decades, but not for the semi feudal mentality of the elites, the root cause of the migrant child crisis.
In the long term the U.S. has two choices to solve the child migrant crisis. The first one is business as usual, throwing money at the problems, a strong alliance with the incompetent business elite and the purchase of influence from uber-corrupt mercenaries like Perez Molina. The second one is disengagement, a de facto repeal of the Monroe Doctrine, no interference with political processes, leave the business elites to their own devices, and zero “aid”.
But the U.S. can only pick one solution. With the first option (the most likely) the U.S. has no choice but to see child migration as an act of passive resistance, for it would imply an alliance with the incompetent elite that forced the children to leave. The second option would be the easiest, cheapest and most effective; however, the imperialistic tendencies of Washington would make it a most challenging political choice.