In an exclusive interview with the former President of Guatemala, he discusses the links between the two countries, the scourge of violence and drug trafficking in the region.
Pedro de la Hoz
ON the last day of the 3rd International Conference for World Equilibrium recently held in Havana, Alvaro Colom, former President of Guatemala, kindly gave an interview to Granma. He is a man who speaks deliberately, and barely raises his voice. Tall and slim, at first sight one does not perceive any trace of the Mayan cultures which characterize his country, but he has fully incorporated this ancestral heritage.
In the conversation, as one would expect, José Martí is the first stepping stone.
How do today's Guatemalans feel about Martí?
In Guatemala, Martí is a very close presence. I grew up in a family where there was great respect and admiration for Martí. We should not forget that Marti had some memorable experiences in my country, he met with indigenous peoples and understood that it was impossible to build the nation without their cultures. Then there is Martí the poet, who wrote the beautiful verses of La niña de Guatemala (The Girl from Guatemala), about a young woman who was in love with him. The links between Cuba and Guatemala extend beyond the figure of Martí. There is also José Joaquín Palma, the poet from Bayamo, a friend of Martí, who gave us the words of our national anthem. Palma was head of a high school and a close friend of ex-President Miguel García Granados, the father of the young woman who inspired Martí's poem.
There is another coincidence in that Cuba and Guatemala are both commemorating the 160th anniversary of Martí's birth, and in our two countries we will also be remembering the centenary of the birth of Don Manuel Galich, a great Guatemalan who lived and worked here and is one of Guatemala's most important intellectuals.
You live and have been involved in politics in the midst of a society often shaken by violence on the part of organized crime gangs. Is this an endemic problem or is there a solution?
Central America is definitely the stepping stone for everything good and everything bad from North to South and from South to North, and one of the problems is drug trafficking, with all the violence, social instability, ungovernability and dangers to the citizens it entails. Eradicating drug trafficking is a very complex problem, but no country acting alone can deal with it in isolation. A positive step during my premiership was coordinating common strategies with other Central American governments. However, I would emphasize that coordination among the different levels of the civil society is much more effective than specialized bodies of confrontation. It requires a great deal of political will. In Cuba the problem has been solved, not only through punitive measures, but also through prevention, education, and most importantly, offering young people opportunities.
In the recent Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Santiago de Chile, the Cuban President spoke about our experience in combating drug trafficking and the use of narcotics. What is your opinion of his statement?
There's no doubt that what he said was important. Furthermore, I would say that CELAC, as a new vehicle for integration, can do a lot to confront the issue conjointly and successfully.
How do you see the prospects of an international scale attack on drug trafficking?
One of the serious problems occurs as a result of the lack of a comprehensive focus on solutions. One can pursue, arrest, and eliminate traffickers coming from our countries, break down distribution networks and laboratories, but it will all reproduce itself in a vicious circle if drastic and effective measures are not taken in the principal consumer countries, such as the U.S. and Europe, to hit the vast sums of money generated by drug trafficking and to prevent money laundering and its investment in the economy. It also seems to me a contradiction that a cruel battle is being waged on the southern border of the United States, one denounced by everyone, while nobody asks where the arms have come from, nor who gains from supplying assault weapons and machine guns.
Apart from your participation in the Conference for World Equilibrium, are there any other memorable moments of your stay in Cuba you would like to mention?
Meeting the family members of the young Cubans incarcerated in U.S. jails. The commitment, the patience and the sacrifice demonstrated by these young people and their families are very moving. I underline what I said to delegates at the conference: it was fortuitous that the anniversary of Martí's birth was a date designated in the Mayan calendar as the day of the prophecy of the wise and this is what we have seen here. There is another date that denotes the day of justice, and I am sure that day will come, when the Five return to their beloved homeland. We deserve to live to see that day.