Billions of quetzales* – meant for education projects, sanitation, nutrition, maternal health and reproductive projects that did not materialize or were halfway done – were diverted, misused, wasted in cost overruns or simply stolen over the past two decades. This infamous loss has moral consequences, which fall on each one of those officials, at all levels, who profited from the failure to meet the country’s need for development.
The results of this inefficient mixture of theft and relativism in public service has been a principal cause of the scarce, if not absent, progress in reaching human development goals. This is not about mere numbers, but about real stories of pain, danger and suffering. Rather than the presentation of digitized graphics to justify a bureaucratic situation, there are real and pathetic consequences for communities where there is no work, there is no food and there are no prospects for change.
The tragedy of the stagnation of human development in Guatemala does not have one name. It has many first and last names:
• Her name is Jakelin Caal Maquín, the girl who was far from her hometown, Alta Verapaz, on her seventh birthday. She was with her father, on her way to the United States, a country where she died in immigration detention;
• Her name is Claudia Gomez, the 19-year-old Quetzalteca girl who was shot by an immigration police officer in Laredo, Texas, in May 2018;
• His name is Carlos Gregorio Hernández, the 16-year-old boy who left Olopa, Chiquimula, hoping to find work and a future in the north.
And so we could continue, with a list of thousands and thousands of names, not only of migrants but also of all those citizens who lack ways to improve their living conditions, a factor that triggered a massive exodus last year.
The Human Development Index** has noted no improvement, and there has been no change since 2016. Worse, the trend for three decades indicates stagnation, clearly reflected in the uptick in malnutrition, in a decline in competition during the current government and in the absence of governmental plans to bring development to all regions of the country.
The incoming government is faced with the expectations of a nation exhausted by a demanding treasury. Its first step should be to establish rigorous austerity criteria by which leaders set an example. The second step is to set an agenda of priorities for urgent attention to regions with higher poverty rates. And then, to promote a legal framework that fosters a better investment climate, which, in turn, generates jobs and favors entrepreneurship.
Development is not a discourse full of promises that take time; neither is it a set of made-up statistics, nor does it mean reinventing the way of measuring poverty to make it seem less serious than it is. The country’s development involves the provision of technical tools, practical skills and viable perspectives so that there are no more families locked up as criminals in sad, chainlink cells; so that there are no more teenagers who drop out of school because they must go to an urban setting to find work; so that we are not commemorating any more deaths of children at an inhospitable border – to which they never should have gone.
*Editor’s note: The quetzal is the national currency of Guatemala. There are approximately 7.7 quetzales to $1.
**Translator’s note: The Human Development Index is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, education and knowledge, and a decent standard of living.