While continuing to hamper the implementation of public policies aimed at promoting consensus, the fragile links between political forces in Guatemala also demonstrate that, as yet, there has been little bridging of the historical rupture between state and society.
Symptomatic of this continuing divide is widespread public distrust of state structures. There is a long history among officials of excessive bureaucratisation, bias, corruption and impunity, which has persisted regardless of mounting poverty and poor public services. As a consequence, ordinary Guatemalans tend to view public officials, even if elected, not as servants of the people, but as abusive, inefficient and corrupt. In response to decades of fraudulent elections, the vote is also often seen as an isolated act on polling day. Many concur with popular organisations who continue to doubt the longer-term political significance of elections.
It would be wrong to suggest there has been no broadening of public debate on national political issues and that the implementation process as it is cannot facilitate a new exercise in citizenship. Indeed, where there is limited democratic experience, negotiation continues between the executive and other structures, whether political, private sector or governmental. So far, however, discussions around the transformation of state institutions and nation-building have been excessively compartmentalised. Debate is limited to particular implementation commissions discussing such issues as education reform, a new municipal code and the land register separate from broader national concerns. Only at the highest levels of government are there discussions on, for example, centralisation versus devolution and the limitations of the financial capabilities of the state. Many Guatemalans who could usefully contribute to these discussions are left uninformed and excluded.
Furthermore, serious reflection on enabling communities to contribute more constructively to national debate has been restricted largely to the civil society organisations involved in the implementation and dissemination of the accords. However, these groups acknowledge their often unhelpful anti-state prejudices, their lack of organisational focus, their ignorance of how the three branches of the state operate, their inexperience of negotiation and accountability and, particularly, their lack of political initiative. They are often well aware that they are ill-equipped to effectively lobby the legislative assembly, present alternatives, create alliances, and formulate strategies. They also highlight how they are denied the professional assistance afforded their state counterparts, which leaves them handicapped in their efforts to rectify their acknowledged shortcomings.
The implementation commissions, local government structures and development councils envisaged in the peace accords afford state and society a new arena within which to take joint decisions. These structures depend for their effectiveness on the priorities and the pace set by central state authorities, however, and the agreements provide no mechanisms to mediate this dependence. All things considered, perhaps the greatest challenge of implementation lies in building this channel of communication and in integrating the implementation structures with central state institutions which determine national priorities. Until such integration is achieved, transparent discussion on how public and societal power can be strengthened will continue to be hampered, as will the capacity of Guatemalans to construct viable new concepts of citizenship.