Leader Of The Year: Otto Perez Molina, President Of Guatemala “Committed to development”

MolinaFPGuatemala’s president, Otto Perez Molina, believes that his main achievement is to have motivated his fellow Guatemalans to make an effort to change their country. It is not a minor accomplishment. After all, the nation still has many scars and open wounds left by the civil war that lasted 36 years and that ended only 17 years ago, following a peace agreement signed between four representatives from the guerrillas and the government, including Perez Molina himself.

“We want to look ahead. Let us not remain entangled by ideological differences. Let us have the fight against extreme poverty and the defeat of hunger as our single ideology,” he said in a conversation with Latin Trade.

At the same time, he points out that his biggest challenge is to achieve “a safer Guatemala.” In fact, this was one of the main bids of the campaign that took him to the presidency.

He believes that fighting criminals requires various fronts. One of them, he states, is to have strong institutions, particularly, a well-equipped police force. This is why President Perez Molina will increase the number of policemen by 10,000, and his government is already training officers and agents in specialized schools. In addition to this, he underlines the need to strengthen the judiciary.

President Perez would like to be remembered for having built the institutional foundations to achieve higher public security in Guatemala, as well as for having given higher priority to the hunger-eradication policy, under his Zero Hunger Pact. He believes that this is such an important task that it will be continued by any of his successors. He estimates that these two pillars will speed up the country’s path to development.

Yet, there are other topics that are capturing the president’s energy and attention. Education is one of the most important. The government just established a plan that will eliminate illiteracy from various towns and provinces. Out of the 334 municipalities in the country, 20 are already illiteracy-free, and 10 more aim to become so before the end of this year. It is expected that two out of a total of 22 provinces become fully literate this year. It is not an easy task, but it is being done with the standards monitored by Unicef, explained President Perez. He also highlighted the importance of the program to educate teachers. “This is the beginning of everything. (The program) goes forth and has no turning back,” he emphatically said.

Attracting foreign investors is a task on his personal agenda too. Local business leaders join him on his international trips just to make it clear that the interest to develop Guatemala is equally shared by the government and private sector. Foreign direct investment soared at unprecedented rates in 2011 and 2012.

Disciplined and formal, the 63-year old Perez Molina, although retired, is a soldier to the bones. He graduated from the military academy in his country in 1973, got a master’s degree in international relations from the Francisco Marroquin university in Guatemala, and studied at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington D.C.

Nowadays, in the presidency, his tone has a different hue. He changed the leadership style he deployed during his 30-year military career, in which he achieved the rank of general. “It is not an authoritarian leadership, but one by example and conviction,” he says using just that style. Anyhow, he acknowledges that his military experience allowed him to develop that characteristic to the maximum. “There is competition for leadership and recognition for leaders in the academy.”

Otto Perez Molina has four basic life principles. He practices and passes them on to his two children. “I do my best effort so that not only they hear them, but see the example.” The first, he says, “is the value of the name. Honesty and sincerity are basic principles I recommend to my children. Honesty is priceless.” The second one is modesty. “You must have your feet on the ground. You have to be humble, simple,” he points out, while affirming that this is achieved by being a good listener. The third one, he adds, “is the constant fight to reach goals. Nothing comes as a gift, for free.” The fourth basic principle that guides his job is family unity.

Guatemala’s president, Otto Perez Molina, believes that in addition to these principles, his love for his country and his spirit of service are qualities that have helped him the most in his career. Perhaps, it is now time to also add to his capacity to innovate and design new ways to resolve his country’s problems.

Santiago Gutierrez reported from Miami.

Filed Under: BRAVO 2013

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