Monday, 30 August 2010

A rich country full of poor people

Guatemala: 108,000 sq. km of land, almost 14 millions of people from where 4 out of 10 have the ability and are available to work and where more than half of them are in their more productive years of their lives, between 20 and 50 years old.
Abundant Natural Resources, diverse microclimates and ecosystems, which according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre concentrate 1246 species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles and 6% of them are only found there (endemic),  and more than 8500 vascular plants from which 13% are endemic. Compare to Spain which has 5,050 or Canada 3270 vascular plants in total.
The country, which is considered the fifth biodiversity Hot Spot in the world has 14 eco-regions ranging from Mangrove forest (4 species), in both ocean littorals, Dry forest and Thorn bushes in the Eastern Highlands, Subtropical and Tropical rain forest, Wetlands, Cloud Humid forest in the Verapaz, Pacific Piedmont, and other regions,  Mix, Quercus and Pine forest in the Highlands. (“Conservation International”, 2009). Geographically, Guatemala has coasts with the pacific and Atlantic oceans, an strategic relative distance between North and South America and an annual average temperature of 18 degrees Celsius in the central zone. The monetary richness of the country in absolute figures is approximately US$7 bn of GDP per year. In average, each Guatemalan citizen would have an income of US$5,200.00 per year, but the reality is that only very few gain way more than that and the majority (6 out of 10) have a daily income of US$730.00 per year or $2.00 per day, in other words, living at or below the international poverty line measured by income levels.
The average level of education among the population is 4 years of primary school and according to UNICEF data, chronic malnutrition affects to one out of two children in general and 8 out of 10 indigenous children in particular! (Unicef 2009)
Ironically, at the same time, Guatemala obtained the world Guinness record of the world largest buffet in 2009!
In general terms, 20% of Guatemalans live with 80% of the income generated by using the productive resources of the Country. (UNDP, 2009) We can conclude to say that Guatemala is not a poor country. Guatemala, in fact, is a Country rich in resources, rich in quantity and quality of its people, rich in cultures, rich in access to climates and sun hours; in access to oceans and seaways and abundant in ecosystems and biodiversity. But also is a country where very lives few rich people within too many poor people, too many ignorance and way too many malnourished children and families living in famine. The gini index in Guatemala is 0.54. (Worldbank, 2009)
Explanations of that socioeconomic situation are abundant in the newspapers and political discussions. Some are stagnated in simple ideological debates between communism and capitalism, even without addressing the real meaning of those terms.
The reasons, however, are deeper than a simple dichotomy: Gov. Intervention or Free Markets.
In order to understand us today we need to see the whole picture, and specially the youngest generations start to ask questions like:
How did Guatemala come to this point?
Why and how the productive resources including the financial capital access are among so few?
Is there any responsibility of Governments that those inequalities have been persistent over time in Guatemalan history? Was not the purpose of the State to represent the interests and needs that are to satisfy by its population? To what interests does the Guatemalan State answer and has it responded over time?
Is there a potential that the Government can bring access to tools of economic and social development to those who have never had them to take control of their own lives and get out of poverty by their own means? Is not that the main idea of Democracy?
What is the cost, for those who don’t live in poverty, of all those inequalities that exist in Guatemala?
Isn’t it contradictory that, in the name of freedom, some limitations will be imposed to others of access the same opportunities to compete in equal conditions in an economic system where access to equal opportunities is crucial for economic and human development?
It is imperative to rethink the way that it has been pretend to create wealth and increase economic growth in Guatemala. The limitations of the public resources and the non transparent and non efficient way of utilizing them have positioned Guatemala with the embarrassing socioeconomic indicators that we have being carrying so far. But also the concentration of the productive resources in a very small portion of the population maintains the rest of on economic misery, spilling over time the negative social and environmental consequences in the whole population between the Guatemalan boundaries and beyond. It is just needed to review the environmental and social situation more than the economic growth indicators measured as GDP per capita.
 The debate about the concentration of the productive resources and its utilization has been avoided for years and it is about time to approach it. The UWC movement is one of the few places where these issues can be debated fondly between the younger generations of world citizens and with a ripple effect in mind. Guatemala cannot beg some resources for the majority (Gov. Tax burden is just 12% of GDP) and maintain all that great potential of human capital below the poverty line. Guatemala could generate, in one generation, a sustainable change so our own children and grandchildren could live in a Country and World with future and hope.
For those who have a business mind here is a comparison: In any business, profits will come some years after the capital investment. In this case, is the whole country which will generate “social profits” which all of us will enjoy after investing in the country´s human capital via taxes and betting on the active exercise of citizenship; that being done electing and exercising a social accountability of efficient governments, ethical leaders and representative political parties of those who don’t receive the benefits that the current system gives to few. “Social Profits”, could be called, to enjoy the benefits which will bring the long term in form of a healthier, more educated, more productive, freer, safer, more critical, environmentally stable, socially developed population. The social time bomb is exploding and the price paid of doing nothing is way higher than the costs of tackling them with a strategic, fair and sustainable leadership paradigm.

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