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Guatemala can be a rich country

By Luis Enrique Pérez

It is my conviction that Guatemala can become one of the richest countries in the world; and the majority of their children can escape from that state of poverty that seems to be their only possible state. It is a conviction that does not arise from a licentious imagination, or from a pathological optimism, or from a pressing psychological need to believe that poverty is not the only economic destiny of the majority of Guatemalans.

It is a conviction that arises from events that the economic history of the world is pleased to show with irresistible evidence. Precisely that story shows that one of the poorest countries in the world can become one of the richest countries. It also shows that this conversion does not have to occur over centuries, but can occur over a few decades. An example is the State of Singapore.

The territory of Singapore is made up of a multitude of islands, which have a total area of 700 square kilometers. It is located on the Malaysian peninsula, between Malaysia itself to the North and Indonesia to the South. In 1819, in that territory, the British Thomas Stamford Raffles, lieutenant governor of British Java and governor of the British island Bencoolen, built a port, which acquired increasing importance in Southeast Asia. From 1826, when Raffles died, the port was part of the British kingdom.

The journalist Ferghane Azihari, specialized in international politics and trade and competition, reports that, at the end of the Second World War, in 1945, the British recovered the island of Singapore, which was under Japanese rule, since the year 1942; and in 1958 they granted it autonomy that was equivalent to independence. In 1963, Singapore joined Malaysia; but, mainly due to political-ideological disagreements over foreign trade, in 1965 the union ceased.

In 1966, Singapore had two million inhabitants and the average annual wealth obtained per inhabitant was equivalent to $5,400. The United Kingdom had 55 million inhabitants and that wealth was equivalent to 15,500 dollars. Malaysia had ten million inhabitants and that same wealth was equivalent to 3,400 dollars. However, in 2016 Singapore had six million inhabitants and the average annual wealth obtained per inhabitant was equivalent to 66,000 dollars. The United Kingdom had 66 million inhabitants and that wealth was equivalent to 37,000 dollars. Malaysia had 31 million inhabitants and that same wealth was equivalent to 23,000 dollars. Singapore, then, multiplied 1.78 times the average annual wealth obtained per inhabitant in the United Kingdom; and 2.87 times that obtained in Malaysia.

Singapore's fantastic success was the work of a wise approach to economic freedom, which created a formidable global free port. The freedom of foreign trade was such that Singapore did not demand free trade reciprocity.

Singapore is a parliamentary republic, which has imposed severe standards of social conduct, for which it has been criticized. It has one of the largest financial markets and one of the main seaports in the world. It is one of the countries with the highest average wealth per inhabitant; and one of the so-called Asian tigers of the economy. The others are Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.

Singapore's main economic activities are electronics, the petrochemical industry, commerce, finance, mechanical engineering and, mainly, services. Services contribute almost 70% of the total value of annual production, and employ almost 84% of the economically active population.

It is one of the countries with the lowest crime in the world, after having been, before the 1960s, one of the countries with the highest crime. The death penalty has been the main resource to reduce crime. Singapore provides a striking example of the deterrent power of the death penalty if it is certain that it will be imposed.

Singapore shows that to prosper, it is not necessary to have a territory 155 times larger; but Guatemala has it. It shows that it is not necessary to have abundant natural resources; but Guatemala has them. It shows that it is not necessary to be very close to the largest world market, that is, the United States of America; but Guatemala is. It shows that it is not necessary to be an agricultural food producing country; but Guatemala is. It can be argued that Singapore has an advantageous geographical position in Southeast Asia; but Guatemala has its own advantageous position on the American continent. It is, for example, a country close to the largest market in the world, it has a coast on the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and it can be a means of transporting goods between both oceans, with highways, railways, oil and gas pipelines.

Our Guatemala is not the victim of some unfortunate fate that has condemned a significant proportion of Guatemalans to poor nutrition, illness, mortality from illness, economic unproductivity, poor housing and difficult longevity. Our Guatemala is a victim of the repression of economic freedom, exercised by corrupt, inept, stupid, ignorant and irresponsible politicians. It is repression that paralyzes and even annihilates the enormous creative power that Guatemalans can use to benefit themselves and their neighbors through the production and exchange of goods and services.

Our Guatemala can be as prosperous as Singapore. A general beginning is to have a mentality conducive to reducing the power that the State grants to rulers, until it is only the power to guarantee rights, the first of which must be the right to maximum and equal freedom of citizens, with the necessary condition that the freedom of each is compatible with the maximum and equal freedom of all. With that beginning, new dawns of prosperity would emerge on the horizon.

A particular beginning is to abolish forever, as if they were curses destined to bury, not the progress of society, but the hope of progress, these beliefs:

First : There must be economic equality of citizens. Singapore has never claimed such absurd equality.

Second : High taxes promote the prosperity of society. Singapore abhors high taxes.

Third: The State must distribute wealth to achieve economic equality. Singapore is a State to create wealth, not to distribute it.

Fourth: Socialism is the only economic regime that can reduce and even eliminate poverty. Socialism would have retained Singapore in its original poverty; or would have increased it.

To abolish these beliefs is to undertake the transition from an ominous darkness to a promising luminosity.

Post scriptum . In Singapore, state intervention in the economy, although moderate, has prevented greater prosperity. Guatemala could eliminate any intervention other than guaranteeing rights, and be a more prosperous country than that opulent Asian tiger.

Luis Enrique Pérez is an Honorary Doctor from the Olga and Manuel Ayau Cordón University. He has been a professor of philosophy in the bachelor's and master's degrees at the Francisco Marroquín University, and a professor of philosophy in the bachelor's degree at the Rafael Landívar University. He has authored at least 3,000 articles. He is co-founder and member of the Pro-Reforma civil association.

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