Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
January 16, 2007 (CUOPM)
St. Kitts and Nevis was among five Caribbean countries represented at the swearing-in on Monday 14th January, of Guatemala’s newly-elected President His Excellency Alvaro Colom.
The Federation was represented by the Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, His Excellency Dr. Izben C. Williams.
President Colom, who is Guatemala’s first leftist president in more than 50 years, has promised to fight poverty in a nation where the World Bank estimates that half the people live on less than $1 a day.
Colom took office along with his Vice President, heart surgeon Rafael Espada, in an inauguration ceremony which drew attend by many world leaders, including all Central American Heads of State and Government and the Presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, China, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
Colom, an industrial engineer who led Guatemala’s efforts to coax thousands of war refugees back home, has promised a broad social agenda that includes building schools and medical centers, creating jobs and bringing security to a country where gangs behead victims and drug traffickers control much of the police.
The country’s last leftist president, Jacobo Arbenz, was thrown out of office in 1954.
The new President has inherited many challenges. Coupled with endemic poverty, there is extreme inequality, and enormous developmental challenges. Only one-third of children ever attend secondary school, and 50 percent of the labour force works in agriculture.
Poverty remains disproportionately concentrated in the indigenous, Mayan communities.
President Colom promises to reach out to the marginalized with a largely progressive program of social democracy that displays a ‘Mayan face,’ hoping to speed up rural development, improve education, and improve access to health care.
Drug trafficking, violent crime, and gangs (maras) are primary concerns for Guatemalans of all classes. Many, such as outgoing Vice President Stein, warn that Guatemala is on the brink of becoming a “narco-state.”
Guatemala’s murder rates are among the highest in the world; officially, 6,033 were slain in 2006. The police and judiciary appear ineffective against the tide of crime. In 2005, for example, the Office of the Public Prosecutor reported that only 46 murder cases out of 4,352 went to trial. Colom has wowed to bring about substantial social and economic changes and to reverse trends in crime.