Cerezo: building democracy is job for all the people

Although President Vinicio Cerezo insists that building democracy in Guatemala is not his responsibility alone, much of the burden rests on him. His approachable style and sense of humor have made him a popular figure here. But this carries risks as well as advantages.

The Christian Science Monitor and the Paris daily Lib'eration talked to the President about his hopes of democratizing his nation.

How do you see the political balance of forces in the country today?

I think we've taken some first steps towards changing the balance. Before, the administration worked [through] a traditional alliance between the military and economic oligarchies. We have opened a space for people to start expressing themselves on national problems. This is fundamental because the people's presence changes the balance considerably.

Which social sectors do you expect to have the most problems with?

I think the groups with economic power are going to be the most difficult, the most intransigent. They still seem fearful in the face of popular movements, and the possibility they will have to make economic concessions. As for the military, I don't care whether they handed over a civilian government out of goodwill or because of a strategic decision. That's not my problem. And if we can get them used to the presence of the people as a new element of power, then democracy will be strengthened.

What about the risk that your caution toward traditionally dominant sectors might not set a pattern that will be hard to break?

That could be. But neither of the two choices we had [to be cautious or to challenge the Army and business sector] guaranteed results. My method is to take a position and consolidate it, take another position and consolidate it. We have to do in five years what hasn't been done in 25. . . .

What are the chances of negotiations with the leftist guerrillas fighting your government?

I think there is a chance the guerrillas might be prepared to talk if we manage to maintain political and civil organization [so as] to avoid a return to the belief in a definitive solution between the Army and the guerrillas.

What can be done to build democracy when social and political organizations have been destroyed by years of violence?

Hard work. And now there is a space to organize. . . What people have to do is to go out and run the risks of democracy, create a serious opposition.

And the government will protect them, not persecute them. I am really a true democrat, I believe that people have the right to disagree with me.

Will Guatemala be a democracy by the end of your term?

I think that in five years time this will be a country where the conditions for the consolidation of a democratic system will be in place.

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