Guatemala has the justice it pays for.

Recently, Barbara Schieber in The Guatemala Times, published a piece which again highlighted the contradictions in Guatemala around state responsibility and state ability to tackle the endemic violence affecting that country.

The Association of Bi-national Chambers of Commerce (ASCABI) has requested that the Guatemalan government announces a state of prevention (Un Estado de Prevención is its rightful term and doesn’t translate easily into English). It is, in fact, a decree suspending particular and named constitutional rights. The article states that the limitations to civil and human rights include the following: the right to organise meetings, the right to public demonstrations, and includes state censorship of the media. What is exercising the minds of ASCABI is the level of violence in the country and its effect on their ability to make money, sorry, to provide a better environment for foreign investment.

ASCABI constitutes the Chamber of Commerce of Brazil, Colombia, Israel, Canada, US, Germany, Spain, India, and Mexico. On the face of it this appears a strange mixture though off the top of my head, there is the Canadian interest in quelling any struggles against mining interests.  It might be interesting to see what is of interest to, for example, India, Israel and Germany. This grouping sees the Estado de Prevención as being an effective way to control delinquency and to promote security in Guatemala. What might also be an effective measure should they bother to look, would be fiscal reform. However, surprise, surprise, Guatemala´s private sector opposes any fiscal reform to support the justice and security sectors in their country.

This is not necessarily news to anyone who has taken an interest in the machinations of the oligarch class.  As mentioned previously, a study found that ‘Guatemala has one of the lowest tax burdens in Latin America, as well as one of the most generous regimes of exemptions and tax breaks. The study attributes the low tax collection and expenditure to the state’s historic control by elite sectors of the economy.’ CICIG, Guatemala’s International Commission against Impunity, which GSN has frequently mentioned in very positive terms, states that ‘Guatemala has the justice it pays for: it pays little and has poor justice. It has to pay much more money’.

On one side you have the overseas pressure from ASCABI, while internally there is mounting pressure from the oligarchs to change the Constitution through an organisation called ProReforma. This group also uses the problems of crime and violence in Guatemala as an excuse to further their aims.  What ProReforma hopes to achieve is a new form of legislature – one which will be bi-cameral and will hand legislative power to a small group of people based within a Senate. Members of the Senate will serve for 15 years, between the ages of 50 and 65, and will be elected in their 50th year by people of the same age who will then only have that one vote in their lifetime. Three senators will be elected each year to take the place of those three senators retiring at the age of 65.

ProReforma is very well bank-rolled by those interests it serves but is not having things its own way. Despite the lack of funds, community groups, academics, journalists are providing plenty of opposition to the moneyed elite. What is needed is for this group to start paying their share of taxes to the public purse.

There has been much written about constitutional reform in Guatemala and we hope to bring you a flavour of the debate as well as outlining further the issues at stake. We are talking of constitutional reform, it is somewhat challenging to bring a coherence to this topic.

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