Political outsider and former comedian Jimmy Morales takes office in Guatemala today after a landslide victory over former first lady Sandra Torres in October. From April to September of last year, thousands of Guatemalans filled the capital city’s central plaza to protest corruption and impunity. Their political pressure led to resignation of former president Otto Perez Molina and gave Morales a boost at the polls. Latin Correspondent spoke with Morales the day after he was elected about his views on immigration and U.S. aid to Guatemala. (This interview has been translated from Spanish and lightly edited for clarity).
Latin Correspondent: I would like to talk about immigration. What do you propose to do for the thousands of Guatemalans who leave each year?
Jimmy Morales: In terms of Guatemalan immigrants in the U.S., it hasn’t been established exactly how many there are from Guatemala. It’s believed about 1.1 to 1.5 million. To me, immigrants are an important group, not only economically because of what they send but because they are helpless. They are not protected by any law without identification there (in the U.S.) working without documents and Guatemala has not helped them.
I propose three things:
First, give them better service and attention at the consulate. There are 15 consulates in the U.S. and to try to bring them closer to (these migrants) so they feel well attended.
Second, try to motivate them to prepare themselves because many leave without a high level of education. Then, many of them work in lower-paying professions and have a lower probability of being able to elevate their level of life. Therefore, they can’t save money and they can’t think of ever really returning because what they send back is only to be spent.
Third, give them the instructions so that they can incorporate financial savings into their lifestyle. They can put away a little of the money they send towards an accident fund, a little towards life insurance, maybe a pension or whatever they choose, possibly to return or have the decision to return. The idea is (to create for them) a reality towards a future with foresight.
We suggest these plans for them. Not that the government is going to do everything for them but that it will give them the conditions and ability so that they can do this.
Latin Correspondent: So, do you think the most important thing in this regard is to improve the security situation in Guatemala?
Morales: I was referring to the migrants that are already there. For the people who are still here, the idea is that they don’t leave. Why? Because they leave with the dream of building a house, but they destroy a home. I have listened to many stories of men who have left while they were married and they find a new wife there. Their previous wife stayed but they found a new wife. Then, they were able to build a house, but the home was destroyed. This isn’t everyone’s story. But it is the story of many. Or children that are born but they grow up without their father because he wants to work and time passes, 10 or 15 years outside of the country and they never had the presence of a father or mother in the house. This is not right.
So the idea is that they don’t leave but to do that we have to work so that the conditions here are better, the economic conditions, the security conditions and cultural conditions. How many people will have musical talent and they never know because there is not a music school? How many people could have been an excellent soccer player but they were never given the opportunity to develop their talent because there are not options in this country? There has to be investment in this. It’s not easy.
There is the Plan for the Alliance of Prosperity for the Northern Triangle, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to place all of our hopes on this. First, because the money is a lot but it’s a little compared to the necessity that exists. Second, because one way or another all money has conditions. Third, because I think the we have to find a solution to our problems— and help is not a bad thing— but the responsibility is ours. We have to fight and work for all of this and it’s hard, but we are here trying to find a solution.
This is the first part of a Q & A series with recently inaugurated Guatemalan president on immigration.