‘We are fed up with violence’ – I heard these words last week when I came upon an interview on a TV channel, probably the BBC. The person being interviewed was a young man from Guatemala, and the discussion at that point was about the recent resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, a few hours after a judge had ordered him detained him on charges of fraud, illicit association and receiving bribe money. Shortly afterwards, Guatemala’s congress voted to accept Perez Molina’s resignation and appointed his successor, Vice President Alejandro Maldonado, who was next in line to assume power, according to the country’s Constitution.
Of course, Perez Molina maintained his innocence during an interview with a radio station before turning himself in, but many saw his resignation as the ultimate victory for a country that has been trying to weed out corruption for a decade. He has been presented before a court and confronted with the charges, after which he was taken to jail. Also in jail is former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who had resigned in May this year because of the same scandal. It was Maldonado who had replaced her. She is also facing charges, though she too maintains her innocence
More resignations had soon followed Baldetti’s, and it was observed that that ‘That broad sweep is due in part to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, created by the United Nations in 2006 to help find and remove corrupt officials. Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, said the commission has worked because it did not dictate to Guatemala’s government what to do but instead worked closely with judges, prosecutors and civil society organizations to clean up the country’s mess.’
Another analyst commented, ‘What you saw is a new generation emerge that said, “We’ve had it. This is a model worth considering. … The rule of law can prevail, and justice can take place.”’ And this is what was stressed by the interviewee I was listening to, who drew attention to the growing protest movement that brought together Guatemalans from all walks of life demanding that Perez Molina step down. He then emphasized the peaceful nature of the protest that had taken place, with the resulting resignation of the President through due process.
To him as a Guatemalan, this was a most significant turning point in the life of his country, which had been torn apart by years of political and associated violence. Guatemalans had realized that this was no longer an option for their country, and thus the considered resort to the strategy of organized, massive and sustained protest of civilian forces united in the common purpose of routing corruption in their country. ‘We are fed up with violence’ were his words that resonated most with me.
A forlorn hope
Having been seeing daily the news about the hordes of refugees from the Middle East and other countries fleeing towards Europe, the thought that came to my mind spontaneously then was: ‘If only their sundry rulers, leaders and their blind followers could similarly say to themselves and to each other that they are fed up with violence!’ I knew perfectly well that this was only a pious wish on my part, alas.
For, as matters stand today in those regions, and from the views that have emerged during the extensive debates taking place about this unprecedented crisis, it seems that this is a forlorn hope – that the warring factions, tribes, clans would call for an end to the violence that engulfs and blinds them. The prospect of peace appears even remoter. No lasting peace can come from outside — it will have to come from them only. But there are too many bloated egos, too many aspiring feudal leaders wanting to be in exclusive control of territories and peoples, of the latter’s minds in particular for religious/tribal/ethnic reasons and such related issues that divide – and therefore create enemies — rather than unite.
It seems that ‘live and let live’ is something totally unknown there, it’s ‘either me/us or you/them’. And it is a mentality that stretches all the way through to Afghanistan and at least some parts of Pakistan, otherwise how do we explain that nationals of these two countries are also among the refugee masses? Going by the non-stop, willed destruction of lives and property, including painstakingly crafted monuments both ancient and modern, that is taking place, coexistence is deemed impossible and, sadly, perhaps even undesirable. How whole swathes of humanity who practise the same faith and share the same cultural spaces and features can go on engaging in mutual destruction is impossible to imagine.
And the supreme irony, only too obvious, is that these are lands rich in oil and other resources, besides being so culturally attractive and enriching, and the repository of magnificent legacies from their ancient civilizations. The need for oil by the world, and hence the presence of countries with the know-how to exploit it, could have been leveraged to promote an inclusive development agenda, including geographical and cultural tourism that would have placed these countries in the league of nations that do humanity proud. Wasn’t this happening earlier, before the mayhem set in? Why can’t it happen anew?
A colleague of mine went on a three-month fellowship to Egypt in the early 1980s, and he told me in glowing terms about the respect and high regard that he and his wife received throughout their stay, and the fact that his wife always dressed in her traditional saree was even more greatly appreciated. Brotherhood instead of bombs and beheadings is surely a better basis for living?
Unfortunately, the greed and avarice of coteries ruthlessly pursuing deathly power games is tantamount to the refugees, and generally the people, being let down by their own kind. And with the people go the countries too, or is it the other way round I have wondered at times. Then I told myself: what does it matter, it’s one and the same. When we look at some other countries too, we can see the same patterns of avidity and pursuit of exalted grandeur. Modifying the Constitution to provide for additional mandates of stay in power has led to similar killer waves of violence in, for, example, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, and lately it seems that in the Congo also Laurent Kabila is attempting to do the same.
Agenda for Sustainable Development
When countries are so caught up in the spiral of endemic violence, how can they develop, how do they achieve levels of decent living – not to speak of prosperity – for their peoples? This is another aspect that came to the fore again during a radio discussion on the BBC about the Sustainable Development Goals. It may be recalled that there is a UN Summit on Sustainable Development that is being held on 25-27 September, where the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ will be the subject of consideration by the member states of the UN. It is interesting to learn what the Preamble of the Agenda has to say:
‘This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognise that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which we are announcing today demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve. They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.’ (italics)
A lady social worker and activist from Afghanistan phoned in, saying that these goals and targets seemed very fine, as were the Millennium Development Goals – but wanted to know how in practice gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls was going to be achieved in her own country, for example, because there girls were prevented from going to school and receive a proper education. Who, she asked, was going to change the mindset, and how?
The UN expert on the panel replied that she saw the pertinence of her queries, and conceded that here it was the governments of the member-states of the UN who had ratified its conventions to ensure their implementation, and to foster mutual engagement with all stakeholders for such implementation.
There you go, I reflected, finally it boils down to the leaders and the people of a country and what they want for themselves. If ideologically inspired and driven violence is their preferred choice, can any outside force alter that low down vision of human life and its worth? May they too be ‘fed up with violence.’ Amen.
Published in print edition on 25 September 2015