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How Guatemala's President-elect Should Begin his Presidency
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Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala’s president-elect, should be congratulated for offering leadership to a country facing a daunting array of challenges. To be successful, he will need to set clear and realistic priorities, and strengthen his credibility with early wins.
The task ahead will not be easy as Guatemala has longstanding issues: social inequality, inadequate industrial competitiveness, organized crime, and a fraught relationship with the United States. The country’s economy has also failed to produce job opportunities for young Guatemalans.
The George W. Bush Institute’s Global Competitiveness Scorecard indicates the country’s overall competitiveness in Central America has strengthened since 2007, although its score on legal system and property rights has declined markedly. In these areas, Guatemala lags behind its regional neighbors by significant margins, putting the country at a disadvantage in attracting domestic and international investment— hindering job creation and economic growth.
The Bush Institute’s Central America Prosperity Project (CAPP) working group looked behind these numbers and agreed that the overarching issues driving the weaknesses were informality and corruption. That is, workers and businesses operating on the margins of the economy, without paying taxes or complying with laws and regulations; and penetration of the society by organized crime.
To begin the process of turning things around, Giammattei should promote the use of mobile technologies for access to government and financial services in the context of a broader regional digital strategy. Such advances would go a long way in addressing informality and corruption. The payments would be less subject to fraud and compliance would be easier and less costly.
Like its Central American neighbors, Guatemala enjoys a lively and diverse civil society, an enterprising and creative business community, and ready access to global markets. Giammattei has an opportunity to bring these assets together into a winning development strategy that will benefit the people of Guatemala – as well as the United States.
Matthew Rooney joined the Bush Center in June 2015 following a career as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. At postings in Washington and abroad, he focused on advocating market-driven solutions to economic policy challenges in both industrialized and developing countries, and on protecting the interests of U.S. companies abroad.
In Washington, Rooney was on loan to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to create a high-level private sector advisory body for the Summits of the Americas, working closely with the U.S. private sector and with companies and business associations from throughout the Americas to negotiate an agenda to promote economic integration in the region. Previously, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for relations with Canada and Mexico and for regional economic policy. In prior Washington assignments, Rooney worked for then-Senator Fred Thompson, and supported negotiations to open global markets to U.S. airline services.
Abroad, Rooney was Consul General in Munich, a Consulate General providing a full range of Consular and export promotion services, supporting a permanent presence of 30,000 U.S. forces in two major base complexes, and carrying out a media and public relations initiative in support of U.S. diplomatic objectives in Germany. As Counselor for Economic and Commercial Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador, he laid the groundwork for free trade negotiations between the United States and the five countries of Central America, and promoted market-based reforms for electrical power. Prior to this, he served in various posts in Germany, Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire.
Rooney studied Economics, German and French at the University of Texas at Austin and received his Master’s Degree in International Management at the University of Texas at Dallas.Full Bio
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