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A Guatemalan Perspective of the Free and Virtuous Society

R&L: What is the Instituto de Gobernanza? What is its mission?

Callejas: The Governance Institute, Democratic Union of Democratic Servant Leaders, is an institution that is dedicated to the forming of civic principles and values rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview. The Institute was started in June of 2001 by a group of citizens whose main concern is to promote participation and training citizens through dialogues, conferences, seminars, and conventions. Its mission is to form politically responsible citizens, to form teams equipped to govern, to promote a balance through the governance system between the civil, economic, and political societies, to promote and equip entrepreneurs, to become a key and permanent player in the national debate, to promote interculturality, and to interconnect with key international players.

R&L: It strikes me that the mission of the Instituto de Gobernanza is similar to our own here at the Acton Institute, namely, the aspiration to promote a “free and virtuous society.” What would such a society look like in your opinion?

Callejas: A free and virtuous society is one in which its members live autonomously, sharing material, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This is a product of an harmonic balance that the governance system produces within the framework of the rules (i.e., the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala) to which both the people and those in the government must submit to freely and voluntarily. By governance system, I mean a holistic approach of the harmonic functioning of the three key players in any nation: the economic society (business people), the political society (the state), and the civil society (people organized in mediating associations between the state and the people). The foundations of natural law prevail—life, liberty, and private stewardship of resources—and these are aggressively defended by responsible and virtuous citizens.

R&L: What relationship do freedom and virtue have within society? Is it possible to form or to maintain a just and prosperous society without freedom or virtue?

Callejas: It is impossible to live in prosperity without having developed within a nation a culture based on liberty and the virtuosity of its people. When speaking of “society,” we must understand it in the broadest sense of the word and not reduce it to the “elites,” as it often happens in our developing countries. Otherwise, everthing ends up oriented so that the social, political, and economic “elites” attain their own “first world” material, emotional, and spiritual satisfaction while the rest of the citizens are left behind. We must also understand that when speaking of “virtues,” we are talking about individual practice of both the virtues that generate joy and positive pleasure and those that in practice sacrifice the present for the construction of the future. In other words, we must sacrifice our own convience to accept and tolerate those that think and live in a different or unvirtuous way, hoping that by demonstrating to them the virtuous practice of our way of life, they might change their ways.

R&L: What are the keys to establishing a society that allows prosperity to increase among all people living within that society?

Callejas: The central point must be the liberation of each person, which was also Jesus’ main cause on earth. This allows for the development of each individual’s worth as a person. Each person must become aware that he or she was created for service and instilled with very concrete and clear values simply by the fact of being a person. Each person must come to understand that he or she has the capacity for learning from life itself through an innate entrepreneurial and innovative drive. This will prevent a person from indiscriminately following someone or something else, as most non-reflective people tend to do. All this allows for development within families that produce individuals strengthened in virtues that allow them to live in society in a balanced and harmonic manner with a holistic view of life. A high level of understanding of the idea of being a person, of the value of each one’s conscience, truth, liberty, and dignity is fundamental.

R&L: How does or should religion participate in the free and virtuous society?

Callejas: By understanding religion as a way of thinking, believing, and developing the maximum fruit of human virtue through constant illumination from God and our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no doubt that the liberating power of the Gospel preached and lived by Jesus works mightily in the development of persons that make strong societies, which, in turn, make strong and prosperous nations.

R&L: What legitimate constraints may a government place on the individual autonomy of its citizens?

Callejas: No limitation is legitimate unless it is to prevent the autonomy of a person or group of persons from including actions that negatively affect the inalienable rights of other people in that society. The state and its government have been created to serve people and not people to serve the state or its government.

R&L: Obviously private property rights are important to the economic prosperity of a society, but is there any moral component to maintaining strong property rights? If so, what would that moral component be?

Callejas: We must understand that a human being, the family, and any other intermediate form in which society organizes itself is “owner of the fruit” that comes from the correct and wise stewardship of resources—whether material (land), spiritual (each individual’s talents and gifts), or emotional (feelings and character)—but that they are not the owners of the resources themselves. That is, we are not legitimate owners of the land unless we can make it produce and serve others; we are also not owners of our capacities if these are not utilized in ways that serve others. Even crooks have God-given gifts and talents, but they misuse and ill-manage them. The same thing happens to emotional resources, such as discipline and time management, that are given to many men and women but only used properly by a few, as is the case of everyday Latin American life.

R&L: Would you agree that Guatemala is on the verge of unprecedented social and economic gains? Why or why not?

Callejas: I would say that from the viewpoint of a man or a woman with a Christian worldview, this question deserves a categoric affirmation. It is the responsibility of those of us that know the truth revealed in the Gospel to make it come to pass. It starts with understanding that when a person, family, society, or nation reaches a culminating point in their crisis—just like the one Guatemala is going through now—that is the time when the great opportunity for change and transformation presents itself. Those of us who are able to identify this opportunity must drive it through all means possible to generate actions behind a clear vision that material, spiritual, and emotional wealth must be made available to the greatest amount of people possible. It is important to understand the holistic model of life, to move away from believing that solely working on our spiritual lives or on our material or emotional well-being is the only way to attain wealth. We must work on all these integrally.

R&L: What, if anything, needs to happen before these social and economic gains can occur in Guatemala?

Callejas: We need to train and develop men and women at all levels, but mainly in the so-called social, economic, and political elites, because these are the influential drivers for the transformation of the social, cultural, and legal framework in which our nation operates. We cannot think as simplistically as our churches do today, concluding that we either come to terms with what we are and have or we reduce the “religious” message to a point in which it does not generate important changes in our societies’s culture. If this is our view of religion, we risk converting faith into what Marx said it was—the opiate of the people.

R&L: How is the church involved, if at all, in effecting social and economic change in Guatemala?

Callejas: Currently the involvement of the church, both from the standpoint of traditional Roman Catholicism and within Protestant denominations, is very poor in the areas of social assistance, that is, helping the poor. For the Roman Catholic Church’s side, they are seeking more influence in the hierarchial spheres of the current government, but with an exclusive intention of having influence in places of power. They are apparently not reorienting those in power to bettering the conditions of life in society. On the other hand, the Protestant churches have been in search of political power, but despite having been successful even to the highest levels of governmental influence, they have not been successful in using this influence to better the living conditions among the whole population. All to the contrary, the church’s seeking political influence has demonstrated that power does corrupt.

R&L: Guatemala is rich in natural resources, but real economic growth has been sluggish over the past several years. What do you think are the reasons for this?

Callejas: The biblical warning that people perish for lack of knowledge is realized in our case. Our national leadership of all levels—business, policial, and social—does not have, and therefore has not communicated, a vision and an adequate level of knowledge to our people. Wealth has been generated from the resources available, but this wealth has been concentrated in the hands of a few business leaders who lack understanding. Our government and our judges have lived in perverse agreements with the economic sector, thus limiting the access of the rest of society to knowledge and wealth.

R&L: What is the proper role of the government in the marketplace? How does the government in Guatemala fit with or fall short of this role?

Callejas: Given the current state of our government, the great transformation in the role of Guatemala’s government should be in facilitating the transfer of power and responsibility to the people, a transfer that must be accompanied by a transfer of resources, knowledge, technology, and also liberty to the families and communities so that they can make their own choices. It must become a facilitator that does not allow the economic or any other sector, whether legal or illicit (like drug trafficking), to abuse power, as these abuses have historically penetrated into our national life.

R&L: Some hold that power is too centralized in the Guatemalan federal government and that this power should be decentralized to the civil society. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Callejas: This, the centralization of power in a few people, has generated corruption to extreme levels. Corruption that we not only see in the illegal appropriation of the state’s assets and resources by those who govern us, but in an even worse way, reflected in the high dependance of the people on what the state does, converting the state into a semi-god. It is indispensable to the solution of our old problems and to the efficient use of the country’s resources that we facilitate on behalf of the central government, the transfer of power to the people by way of transfering resources, knowledge, and liberty to the organized structures of the civil society, assuring from the state’s side that the normative frameworks exist and that these frameworks make the transfer of power effective and efficient.

R&L: Do you see any viable way to convince those in power in the federal government that a decentralization of power is necessary in Guatemala?

Callejas: The opportunity exists in the measure in which, on the one hand, the elites forming the leadership of the country understand that there is no other way out, and in the measure in which society itself transforms this demand into political actions that apply pressure so that the slow judicial development we have in this matter is applied and developed further to strengthen a sustainable decentralization process. It is important to appreciate the need for our leadership to understand the process of change within a governance system (as I defined earlier) in which the policitial, economic, and civil society relate under the paradigm of cooperation.

R&L: How can long-term systemic change be accomplished, if at all, in a democratic country when the leadership changes every few years? How can such a country liberate itself from the stagnancy that results from years of progress followed by years of regress?

Callejas: The way to accomplish this is through sowing renewed ideas that change and transform the understaning of current and future generations—just as the Apostle Paul said. This means, taking a step further from the impulse of shallow, economical ideas to the ideological and philosophical conception of society’s elites. In this, our intellectuals, media, social communicators, and politicians have a lot to say and do.

R&L: Having served as a high-ranking public official in the government, did you ever encounter challenges to your faith and morals? How did you respond to these challenges?

Callejas: The challenges to the moral and ethical foundations that any public official in our government has occur daily. This becomes harder in the highest offices in which power is managed ultimately. The first difficulty encountered is the resistance to work, efficiency, and excellence in the staff of these institutions; this can be solved through setting a personal example. I know for a fact this works. The other difficulty lies in the honest stewardship of resources, and although this is hard, it can be done by conforming a team of honest and honorable people in charge of this stewardship. The other level, harder still, is resisting the pressures of your immediate boss—in my case, the President and Vice-President of the country—to act unfairly by giving special privileges to certain contractors or denying access to the state’s resources except to friends and political campaign donors. At this last level, your only option is to take a firm and inflexible position of not falling into these types of corrupt games, and that results in getting fired, just like it happened to me.

R&L: What effect has your faith had on your choices and performance throughout your career?

Callejas: One of the main effects of my faith in Christ on my professional career has been the seeking out and finding of opportunities to become affiliated with businesses, groups of organized citizens, political groups, NGO’s, universities, and people that have recognized in me a successful professional and family life, and, as a result of that, have completely trusted my actions. In the same way, although I have experienced difficult situations with and been taken advantage of by some national leaders as a result of my confession and practice of the Christian faith, I have recognized that these experiences also contribute to my personal development.