Giuliani in Central America: a Response from Fundesa

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On March 18, InSight Crime published an article analyzing the implications of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s consultancy work in Central America. Juan Zapata, the Executive Director of Fundesa, an organization that hired Giuliani to perform consultancy work in Guatemala, responds to InSight Crime’s article below. 

I would like to thank Steven Dudley for the opportunity to write this response to Mr. Lohmuller’s article published on InSight Crime’s “investigative” website, in response to the article “Giuliani’s ‘Broken Windows’ Won’t Fix Central America.” It is important for this information to reach as many as people possible, as the article mentioned above makes many assumptions and can be misleading. This could undermine the quality expected from an institution like InSight Crime.

When I began reading the article, I was completely shocked at the poor references used, as the article begins with a link to a Salvadoran newspaper (there was not even an effort made to contact a Guatemalan newspaper), describing how a private company had hired Giuliani. Clearly the article was referring to the fact that the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala (Fundesa had brought Mayor Giuliani to be the keynote speaker for its annual National Business Forum (ENADE); so let’s begin by explaining that Fundesa is not a company. We are a private, non-profit organization, formed by entrepreneurs; we strive to be independent of sectorial, partisan and political interests. Fundesa was established in 1984 by Guatemalan entrepreneurs to generate and implement programs and projects that promote sustainable economic and social development in the country.

We have a clear goal of reducing poverty to 35 percent by the year 2021, when Guatemala celebrates the bicentennial of its Independence. In order to do so, Fundesa has been coordinating an effort called Mejoremos Guate (short for “let’s improve Guatemala”), a strategy that includes projects and programs that aim to generate a more prosperous, solidary, secure, and transparent Guatemala.

When anyone as recognizable and high-profile as Mayor Giuliani visits a country like Guatemala, this generates news…

In terms of prosperity, we have worked in supporting the creation of a private competitiveness council; as well as the implementation of legal reforms in order to stimulate the productive sector, increase economic opportunities, and attract investment. This is meant to generate more jobs in a country where 53.7 percent of its population lives under the poverty line and 69 percent of those who are employed work in the informal sector.  

We are also coordinating efforts to reduce chronic malnutrition, increase the quality of education, reduce the consumption of wood and open fires in homes, increase housing, and develop more sustainable technical training programs to create more opportunities for Guatemalans. An important commitment was signed at the ENADE 2013 on precisely this topic.

The third aspect of Mejoremos Guate — and that was precisely the topic of last year’s ENADE — has to do with improving public safety and enhancing access to the legal system. This was the main reason behind bringing Mr. Giuliani to Guatemala. We hired Mr. Giuliani because he served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in addition to serving as Mayor of New York, one of the cities in the world that has completely transformed itself, precisely by enforcing the law and coordinating crime prevention programs generated at a local level (this is one of the key aspects to continue reducing crime in a country like Guatemala. So far, Guatemala has reduced its homicide rate from 46 for every 100,000 people in 2009 to 31 for every 100,000 people in 2014).

The other strategic line of action of Mejoremos Guate’s initiative is to strengthen institutions, in order to increase people’s trust in the state. We are doing so by formulating legal initiatives that can reduce impunity, support the judiciary system, and maintain the principles of our republic by ensuring the separation of powers within the branches of the Guatemalan government and prevent the abuse of power, keeping a system of checks and balances. This will be the main topic of this year’s ENADE, an event which will be held October 8 in Guatemala City. I would be pleased to invite all readers, staff and people related to InSight Crime to attend.

Giuliani’s presence at the ENADE and his recommendations for the government and other sectors of civil society is part of a broader, long-term development program called Mejoremos Guate, which is in fact the basis for key strategies not only for the Guatemalan government, but for the basic guidelines that will be implemented through the “Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle of Central America: A Road Map.” This program will be funded with the contributions from the United States, via an important partnership with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Mayor Giuliani’s visit and success in presenting a concrete strategy to continue reducing homicides in Guatemala gained the attention of the mayor of San Pedro Sula in Honduras, as well as the board of directors of El Salvador’s National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), both honorary guests at ENADE. They decided to hire Mayor Giuliani to advise local leaders on how to combat violent crime. In Guatemala’s case, Mayor Giuliani’s visit also united civil society leaders and Guatemalan authorities, who established a Coalition for the Security and Justice in Guatemala.

When anyone as recognizable and high-profile as Mayor Giuliani visits a country like Guatemala, this generates news and sends important messages about the strategic guidelines that Fundesa presents at a forum like the ENADE.

Fundesa has organized the ENADE for the past twelve years, bringing many personalities and former heads of state including: Alvaro Uribe from Colombia, Felipe Gonzalez from Spain, Ernesto Zedillo from Mexico, Alejandro Toledo from Peru, Julio Maria Sanguinetti from Uruguay, as well as other recognized economists like Moises Naim from Venezuela, Felipe Larrain from Chile, and one of the Venezuelan economists who helped focus the Mejoremos Guate strategy, Ricardo Hausmann from Harvard University.

We understand that the context of New York and a country like Guatemala are very different.

In conclusion, the analysis of InSight Crime’s investigator is mistaken in assuming that Central America needs help from outsiders. Guatemala has been changing precisely because of the involvement of the Guatemalan people. As one example, Guatemala has been reducing crime through the active participation of society, and even though we recognize that we still have to push for many more reforms and initiatives through a very difficult Congress, both Guatemala’s institutions and an increasingly active civil society have had tremendous impact in reducing homicides and generating a higher economic growth. Another positive result has been the country’s risk classification gong from 6 in 2005 to 4 in 2014, in an evaluation done by the OECD.

We understand that the context of New York and a country like Guatemala are very different. Simply assuming that Giuliani would come and save the day is completely out of proportion. If there are no interviews with people from Guatemala, it is very difficult to understand the broader strategy behind an initiative like Mejoremos Guate, one that has been funded by the Guatemalan private sector as part of its corporate social responsibility programs. In a country where companies pay more income tax than in the OECD countries or than in Europe in relation to the country’s GDP, this effort is very important in order to generate change and more innovative processes, especially because most of the time there is no continuity between public policies. 

I invite Mr. Lohmuller — or anyone else who reads this rebuttal — to more thoroughly investigate the context of the work done by the private sector when working with government, civil society leaders, and international organizations to improve Guatemala. This could prove to be an interesting case study that would help other countries work together and bring peace and prosperity to its citizens.

Read InSight Crime writer Michael Lohmuller’s response to Mr. Zapata here

*Juan Carlos Zapata is the Executive Director of Fundesa, a Foundation that promotes sustainable economic and social development in Guatemala.

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