On Wednesday, 23 March, our Delegation was invited to visit the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations. It was a rainy morning when we were to meet Mr. José Alberto Briz Gutiérrez, Deputy Permanent Representative at the Guatemalan Mission. After a warm welcome in the elegant building of the Mission, our group squeezed into Mr. Briz’ office, which was certainly not built to host groups like ours. Fortunately we somehow managed and then experienced one of the most interesting briefings of the entire Study Tour.
Mr. Briz limited his speech to introducing the Permanent Mission to us, which is medium-sized in comparison to other missions to the United Nations. There are nine Guatemalan employees, led by Ambassador Jorge Skinner-Klée. Mr. Briz, responsible for the Second Committee of the General Assembly on Economic and Financial Issues as well as for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is the Deputy Permanent Representative and thus the second at rank at the Guatemalan Permanent Mission. After a short introduction of himself and his career path, our speaker gave us the opportunity to use the two hours available to ask all the questions we had on our minds.
Our questions concentrated on Guatemala’s specific position on issues we would have to deal with throughout the conference. Kevin Radev asked the first question about international initiatives on the debt problem. How would Guatemala position itself in such negotiations, since it is not directly affected? The representative explained that in such situations, Guatemala would of course not start an initiative. However, it is an important policy to support highly indebted countries, as many of those come from the Latin American region. Being a member of the G-77, Guatemala demonstrates solidarity with highly indebted countries.
The following question, coming from Max Büge, concerned the reform of the United Nations, in particular the institutional reform of the Security Council and the ECOSOC. Mr. Briz stated that Guatemala would support any initiative aiming at the strengthening of the United Nations. In particular, the General Assembly, as the only fully democratic and representative body of the United Nations, needs to be strengthened. He emphasized that the ECOSOC needs a political recovery of power as well. It needs to be provided with instruments that enable it to react quickly and efficiently to global economic and social problems. Concerning the Security Council reform - currently the dominant debate at the United Nations - Guatemala supports the expansion of permanent seats without veto power. Our speaker added that in the long run, the veto power would need to disappear. However, Guatemala concentrates its efforts on working on initiatives to strengthen the General Assembly. Raising the issue again, our second General Assembly Plenary representative, Christian Wussow, asked the diplomat which country Guatemala would support in getting a permanent seat. The answer was cautiously presented: Guatemala has not officially expressed its support to Brazil, since Mexico has not yet clearly stated its position. He made clear that Guatemala would support the Latin American country which has the clearest aspirations.
Regarding the World Health Organization, Sabine Wilke asked our speaker, if Guatemala, in dealing with the HIV/AIDS problem, could and would choose between prevention and treatment. The answer was that in general such a distinction should not be made. However, the biggest problem for Guatemala is the lack of awareness throughout large parts of its population. Therefore, the new Government has to concentrate its efforts on prevention through educating its people on HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
Being asked about the problem of corruption by Timo Mahn and Andreas Stolpe, our speaker provided us with a detailed answer. Guatemala does feel the pressure coming from the international community; however, one should not underestimate the difficulties linked with the fight against corruption. The lack of foreign direct investment, a relatively weak economy, speculative investment and the need for further economic and social development are all entangled elements in the fight against corruption. But achievements have been made, such as improving the functioning of the legal system. The new Government of Oscar Berger does try to fight corruption, feels deeply committed to do so and welcomes all international initiatives on the issue.
Tine Vestergaard and Carmen Dege asked their questions about the indigenous issues in Guatemala. Mr. Briz pointed out that they enjoy the attention of the Government. Issues such as land rights and bilingual education are a part of Berger’s reform programme for Guatemala. Mara followed, by asking the representative about the problem of internally displaced people. The answer was surprisingly sharp, as Mr. Briz clearly stated: “Guatemala does not have a problem with internally displaced people. There are no such people in Guatemala!”
There were several other questions and after the two hours had rapidly passed, we would have still been able to ask for more information. Without exaggeration, we all agreed that this briefing was the most interesting of all and that it helped us to better tackle our mission to come.