By Liisa L. North, Alan B. Simmons
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Additional info for Journeys of Fear: Refugee Return and National Transformation in Guatemala
35 Problems of Democracy Under these circumstances, the relationship between the political and the economic becomes so entwined that it is possible to state that the political, in its own right, disappears and is replaced by economic interests. There is, moreover, as pointed out so often, a power vacuum: there is no leadership or organizational coherence within Guatemalan society, which produces an impression of chaos, a general lack of direction within the social body. This is a critical issue.
Yet after almost thirty years of NGO activity in Guatemala, an evaluation of their impact and role remains to be done. In addition to their weakness and heterogeneity, another problem related to social actors arises from their functional inconsistency over time and a lack of coherence in their demands. Furthermore, the same people systematically appear in leadership positions in diverse organizations, even ideologically opposed ones. Honourable exceptions aside, there is the case of the guerrilla of yesterday who is a member of the army's intelligence services today, or the case of the union leader who becomes the candidate of a right-wing party, the intellectual of the left who suddenly assumes a very conservative position.
Political and civic organizations were crippled by a "culture of fear" - the harvest of the "violence, torture and death . . [that had become] the final arbiters of Guatemalan society" (Gleijeses 1988, i, 4). Thus the party system was weak, corrupt, and incoherent - plagued by personalism and opportunism - while the urban working classes and the peasantry had yet to recover the organizational levels they had achieved in the mid-1970s. Poitevin's contribution to this volume speaks eloquently to the political challenges the peace process faced.