Do you ever reflect on what it is that drives you to be involved with the third sector? Either as a contributor or donor, volunteer or charity leader, charity monitor or evaluator?
All of which got me thinking about the importance of being up front here about my biases and motivations for doing what I am doing, as a donor to charities, as a member of a number of governing boards of charities, and as someone who has been involved in charity monitoring for over 30 years.
Ken Berger was speaking at a philanthropy camp in New York, and the substance of his speech can be found at http://vimeo.com/14123869. While much of his speech addressed the work of Charity Navigator in the US, what I found more interesting was his brief autobiographical discussion that kicked off his talk. He spoke of how he became involved in charity work. Well, here is my journey.
I was raised in the nonprofit sector. My parents were missionaries in Guatemala with what was then known as the Central American Mission, now CAM International. We traveled to Managua, Nicaragua sailing on a United Fruit Company ship from New Orleans, Louisiana, by way of Havana, Cuba, through the Panama Canal, and up the Pacific Coast to Managua. Originally based in Nicaragua, our family moved to Guatemala in 1943, where my father was a professor at a Guatemalan seminary. He later founded a cultural radio station, Radio Cultural TGN, TGNA, and was its first executive director.
The recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East have brought back memories of my childhood. Shortly after arriving in Guatemala, we were caught up in the middle of protests and a revolution in which attempts were made to overthrow the government of Generalismo Jorge Ubico.
Admittedly, my memory of that time may not be the best, especially when my interpretation of events and my understanding of what I was experiencing was through the eyes of a young boy. On reflection, I thought of General Ubico as something of a benevolent dictator, assuming of course, that I knew what that meant.
I remember a basically happy time, where the streets and parks were safe, where my mother shopped freely in the central open market, where there seemed a measure of freedom, at least in the eyes and imagination of a young boy, and where religious communities, primarily Roman Catholic and Protestant flourished. It was also a time when justice was swift. When thieves and petty criminals were caught and arrested, tried and convicted in the space of a few days, and then summarily executed by police rifle squads. This had an effect on the crime rates in Guatemala City and potential problems of recidivism. The executions were always announced in the newspapers and on the radio, and carried out at the wall surrounding the National Central Cemetery not far from where we lived. Church bells rang out as the sound of the gun fire was unmistakable in announcing to the citizens of Guatemala City just what was happening down at the National Cemetery.
But as I later learned as an adult, the record was not that clear. By way of background, in the 1890s, during the U.S. implementation of the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America, European colonial powers were expelled and U.S. hegemony over the resources and labor in Latin America was expanded. The dictators ruling Guatemala during the late 19th century and early 20th century were accommodating to the U.S. business and political interests.
It was during the 1930s, that General Ubico came to power with U.S. support, and according to some reports, instituted one of the most brutally repressive governments in the region. According to these reports, he created a network of spies and informants. Political opponents were tortured and put to death. A staunch anti-communist, he consistently sided with the wealthy landowners and urban elites in disputes with the peasantry.
Nevertheless, Ubico remained close to the United States, informing the U.S. Minister at the time of the Munich crisis in 1938, that "Guatemala will follow the policy of the United States as long as it is not Communistic." When President Franklin Roosevelt successfully ran for and was elected to a third term, contrary to the two-term tradition in the United States, General Ubico and his supporters were encouraged, seeing that the U.S. had placed "the man above tradition," and believed that this was also a good reason to keep General Ubico in office for an additional extended period.
His repressive policies and arrogant manner eventually led to a widespread popular insurrection which was led by middle class intellectuals, professionals, and young junior officers in the Guatemalan army. In 1944, a group of dissident military officers, students, and liberal professionals, the so-called "October Revolutionaries," empowered by revolutions in Venezuela, Cuba, and El Salvador, overthrew the dictatorship of General Ubico.
I remember this because much of the fighting in the streets of Guatemala City took place right outside our urban apartment building. Indeed, shots were fired that penetrated our apartment and caused some minor damage. Our building was quite close to the main army fortress, Fort Matamoros, where much of the fighting was taking place. The final action in this coup leading to the unseating of General Ubico was led by two young officers, Jacobo Arbenz and Francisco Javier Arana. Arbenz and Arana then stepped aside making way for a general election and what was called "Ten Years of Spring." Juan Jose Arevalo, a university philosophy professor and popular democratic socialist, was elected and held the presidency until 1951 when he was term limited and stepped down. He was be followed by the election of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz, one of those two young officers, in 1950 and his his inauguration in 1951.
Jacobo Arbenz was the son of a Swiss German pharmacist who immigrated to Guatemala in 1901. His family was quite wealthy and upper class. Arbenz had wanted to be an economist or engineer, but when the family business went bankrupt, he could not afford to go to the university. His father subsequently committed suicide. Nevertheless, young Arbenz won a scholarship to the Escuela Politecnica, the Guatemalan military academy, which was several blocks from our home. He entered as a cadet. After graduating, he was posted in several military assignments, ultimately returning to the Escuela Politecnica as a professor teaching military subjects, history, and physics. It was during this time that he met Maria Vilanova, the daughter of a wealthy landowner from El Salvador. They were married . It was through her that he was exposed to Marxism. She had received a copy of The Communist Manifesto, and left a copy for him to read. They discussed it as Jacobo Arbenz began to read more works by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. By, the late 1940s, he was regularly interacting with a group of Guatemalan communist leaders and thinkers.
The election of Jacobo Arbenz as president in 1950 accelerated the process of social and economic change in Guatemala which had been started by his predecessor, Juan Jose Arevalo. The centerpiece of Jacobo Arbenz's program was a June 1952 agrarian reform law which allowed the taking or expropriation of 1.5 million acres of unused agricultural land from approximately 100 owners of large tracks of land and giving this land to rural workers. As part of this arrangement, the United Fruit Company lost approximately 250,000 manzanas (or just under 500,000 acres) out of 350,000 manzanas (or a little less than 700,000 acres) that it owned in Guatemala. Although the United Fruit Company was compensated, the compensation was regarded by the company as inadequate. According to the decree, this land had to be taken and distributed to peasant communities and the local natives for agricultural purposes. The company fought the land expropriation and the proffered compensation on the basis that the valuation of the land was estimated to be about 20 times higher than offered by the government. The United States supported the United Fruit Company in its dispute with the government of Jacobo Arbenz.
Nevertheless, Jacobo Arbenz sought to end the domination of the United Fruit Company and other U.S. companies, primarily those in the public utility and transportation sectors. He claimed that he would adopt policies for nationalistic economic development if necessary, and that all foreign investment would be subject to Guatemalan laws. He further claimed that Guatemala was not prepared to make an exception for the United States.
However, it was not just his agrarian reforms that got him in trouble with the United States. President Arbenz eventually forced moderate representatives out of the leading positions in his government and replaced them with communist party leaders. In 1952 the Guatemalan Party of Labor was legalized, and communists subsequently gained considerable minority influence over important peasant organizations and unions. There had been a radicalization in the major government parties. The Communist Party was never the center of the communist movement in Guatemala until Jacobo Arbenz came to power. However, when he came to power, he extended political freedom to the communists allowing them to participate in politics.
In 1952, U.S. President Truman authorized the first CIA effort to overthrow Arbenz, a CIA collaboration with Nicaraguan dictator Anastacio Somoza. According to CIA documents released in the late 1990s following their declassification, the CIA directed covert operations aimed at removing the government of Arbenz from power in Guatemala. The agency drew up a list of some 58 individuals for assassination, exile, imprisonment, and otherwise removal from office. In the end, the plans were abandoned and no Arbenz government officials were assassinated. The names of targeted individuals have been deleted from the released documents, and so it is unclear whether or not there were any assassinations of any of the individuals listed..
In 1953, President Eisenhower authorized the continuation of this plan against Colonel Arbenz and his government. The takeover of the United Fruit Company (subsequently renamed and known today as Chiquita) and the proliferation of labor and agricultural laws were instrumental factors in the White House decision to continue the plans to overthrow the government of Guatemala. However, the policy was also rationalized in terms of anti-communism and the need to respond to the threat that might lead to Guatemala's withdrawal from the capitalistic politico-economic orbit. While there is no evidence that America viewed what was going on in Guatemala as a specific threat against the United States, Arbenz's "drift toward Communism" had become an established fact of policy-makers. As one writer described it:
In Guatemala Communism has achieved its strongest position in Latin America, and is now well advanced on a program which threatens important American commercial enterprises in that country and may affect the stability of neighboring governments. Continuation of the present trend in Guatemala would ultimately endanger the unity of the Western Hemisphere against Soviet aggression, and the security of our strategic position in the Caribbean, including the Panama Canal.
According to some historians, Arbenz's land reform was designed by the Communist Party and was ruled unconstitutional by the Guatemalan Supreme Court, after which Arbenz purged the Court. His regime openly praised Stalin and relied on communists for key decisions. He was alleged to have killed hundreds of his opponents. Arbenz also purged the military brass of officers who were thought to support Francisco Javier Arana, President Arevalo's chief of the armed forces, and a possible opponent of Arbenz. One of those officers was Colonel Carlos Castilla Armas. Colonel Armas retired from the Army and was subsequently exiled to Honduras.
Throughout the early 1950s, primarily in 1953-1954, there was a campaign of propaganda against Jacobo Arbenz. The US Information Agency (USIA) placed unattributed articles in foreign newspapers labeling Guatemalan officials as communists. Additionally, the USIA distributed 100,000 copies of a pamphlet, "Chronology of Communism in Guatemala" throughout the Western Hemisphere. A radio station, La Voz de la Liberacion (The Voice of Liberation), was set up in Miami but claimed to be operating deep in the Guatemalan jungle, broadcasting a mixture of popular music, humor, and anti-government propaganda. Local Guatemalan newspapers also carried on a propaganda campaign against the president.
In the early 1950s, the Roman Catholic press in the United States, following the lead of secular journalists, became convinced that there was a Moscow-directed plot to take over Guatemala, and that it had succeeded and was spreading throughout Central America. Popular Catholic periodicals were turning their attention to Jacobo Arbenz and Central America generally, warning readers of the dangers of the supposed communist regime of Jacobo Arbenz. When he was subsequently overthrown, the Catholic press praised his downfall and predicted cooperation between Guatemalan authorities and the Church. with support by the U.S. government, and the onset of democracy.
Following a March 1954 meeting of Foreign Ministers in Caracas, Venezuela, the CIA received its "marching orders" to plan and train an invasion force of Guatemalan exiles to overthrow the Arbenz regime. Washington's assessment of the situation in Guatemala seemed confirmed when Guatemala received a shipment of weapons from Czechoslovakia in May 1954 at its port, Puerto Barrios, on the northeast Atlantic coast of Guatemala.
During a state visit by Nicaraguan president, Anastasio Somoza, to the U.S. in the early 1950s, he informed the U.S. of Colonel Castillo Armas and his small army of rebels. President Somoza believed that with proper financial support from the United States and from the Dominican Republic dictator, Rafael Trujillo, he and Colonel Armas could depose President Arbenz.
The decision was made to support Colonel Armas and his ragtag army of rebels. Colonel Armas's history is wrapped up in Guatemalan history of this time. He was from a poor family, abandoned by his father and raised by his mother. He attended and graduated from the Escuela Politechnica, the National Guatemalan Military Academy and participated in the coupe that resulted in the overthrow of General Ubico. He was later appointed the superintendent of Escuela Politechnica, a supporter of Colonel Juan Jose Arana. During a coupe attempt, he was wounded and arrested, and subsequently escaped to Honduras.
Aircraft dropped a few bombs here and there during the invasion on the 18th of June. Also during this period, aircraft were flying over the capital, Guatemala City dropping leaflets of propaganda. However, on subsequent raids on the capital, the P-47 aircraft bombed and strafed several targets effectively demoralizing government leaders.
Our home was a few blocks from the Guatemalan military headquarters, the Escuela Politechnica, the headquarters and stables of the Guatemalan Army Cavalry, and the transmitter building for the government radio station, TGW. Although much of the fighting took place in the city center around the national palace, considerable fighting took place in our neighborhood because of the location of the military installations and national radio station. Because of its location, our home suffered some minor damage due to the shooting in the neighborhood.
The CIA P-47 airplanes became known as "Sulfatos," the Guatemalan word for laxative, because of the alleged effect their appearance had upon Arbenz and his officials.
There was one mistake that was made by the CIA, however. On 24 June, a P-47 swooped down over Guatemala City strafing gasoline stations and in the process of its strafing runs, knocked out a radio station. It was not, as luck would have it, the government radio station, TGW, which was the intended target and near our house. Rather, it was TGNA, the protestant missionary radio station founded and operated by my father. Our new family car was heavily damaged by the bullets from the aircraft's 50 mm machine guns, and the studio and transmitter facilities, as well as towers, were badly damaged.
At the sound of the roar of the P-47 conducting the raid, my father and his staff of studio personnel and transmitter engineers stepped outside the respective buildings just in time to see the dive strafing runs of the aircraft. My father and his colleagues dove to the ground to avoid being targets, only to have their bodies surrounded by bullets from the plane's machine guns.
On 27 June, with most of his cabinet ministers having resigned and having fled to various embassies, consulates, and other countries, President Arbenz took to the airwaves to announce his resignation from the presidency, leaving his friend, Colonel Carlos Enrique Dias, then chief of the Guatemalan armed forces, as head of the government. Colonel Dias, whose nickname was Pollo Triste (Sad Chicken), went on the air and announced that:
The struggle against the mercenary invaders of Guatemala will not abate. Colonel Arbenz has done what he thought was his duty. I shall carry on.Initially, Arbenz fled to the Mexican Embassy, seeking refuge there, and was subsequently given safe passage to Mexico. He stayed in Mexico for a short while, and then moved with his family to Switzerland. However, the Swiss government did not allow him to stay there, unless he gave up his Guatemalan citizenship. He refused to do so, and then moved to Paris initially, and then to Prague. The Czech officials were uncomfortable with his stay there because they were afraid that he would demand the government to repay him for the poor quality of the arms which Czechoslovakia had sold him shortly before the 1954 coupe and revolution. He then moved with his family to Moscow, and finally was allowed to move to Uruguay in 1957. In 1960, Fidel Castro invited him to come to Cuba, and he remained there until 1965, when he returned to Mexico following the suicide of his daughter. Arbenz died on 27 January 1971, and his remains were later returned to Guatemala on 19 October 1995 to a hero's welcome for burial in the National Central Cemetery following a ceremony in the National Palace.
In the meantime, On the 28th of June, Jerry DeLarm, one of the pilots with the CIA, bombed Guatemala City again. DeLarm was a native of San Francisco, California, known for his barnstorming adventurous flying around Central America. Initially flying for Colonel Arbenz, doing sky-writing and broadcasting, when he was not paid for his work as promised, and suspecting that Arbenz was a communist, he started flying for Colonel Armas. This time, he hit his target, the right one, the government radio station, TGW, knocking it off the air, and then dropped two bombs on the major army fortress, Fort Matamoros.
President Arbenz's friend and successor, Carlos Enrique Diaz, was deposed two days after he assumed the presidency as head of a military junta, by a military coup led by Colonel Elfego Monzon, who established a military junta.
Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was invited to join the junta, which he did and on 3 July 1954, he returned to Guatemala City to a huge welcome, and succeeded Colonel Monzon as the leader of the junta on the 8th of July 1954. On 1 September, the remaining members of the junta resigned, and Armas was formally declared president. Although my family stayed in Guatemala, I left for the United States to continue my education around that time.
Throughout the latter half of the 1940s and early half of the 1950s, I attended a small boarding school in the Guatemalan highlands in the town of Huehuetenango. Initially, the only roads were small and difficult roads through Quiche or through Quetzaltenango that required 10 to 12 hours to drive to Huehuetenango through difficult and mountainous terrain and so we traveled there by airplane from Guatemala City, a 45 minute flight. After I left Guatemala in 1954, with the construction of the Pan American Highway, it was possible to make the trip in about four hours.
Situated in the center of Mayan culture, and close to the ancient Mayan pre-Columbian capital of Zaculeu, we experienced the beauty of the land, the abject poverty that was present every where in that area, and the nature of accountable charity. So little had changed in over 100 years. The languages, of that area of Guatemala, still existing from ancient Mayan times, were Mam, K'iche', and Q'anjob'al.
The boarding school was a place in which 20-30 boys and girls from missionary families throughout Central America came for their elementary schooling. The students all became part of the local Huehuetenango. We participated in the cultural, civic, commercial, and religious life of the community. However, for most of us, it meant that we were away from our homes and families, and unable to see our parents during the almost 10-month school year.
Yet, it was basically a happy and fulfilling life. We contributed to the community through our charitable services and through regular practices and disciplines taught to us by our parents and the teachers at the school. We regularly visited sites of historical and cultural significance, giving us appreciation for the ancient cultures and practices of the Indian nations that made up Guatemala, and in particular, during the pre-Columbian period.
Zaculeu, is a pre-Columbian Maya archeological site in the highlands of western Guatemala, just a little less that four kilometers outside the city of Huehuetenango. Its occupation dates back to the Early Classic period (AD 250-600) of Mesoamerican history. It was later the capital of the Postclassical Mam kingdom, and later conquered by the K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj. In AD 1525, the city was attacked by the Spanish during a siege that lasted several months.
There are a number of these ancient cities consisting of nothing more than the ruins covered with mounds of dirt. One such ancient capital, is Iximche', located near the town of Tecpan and not far from Huehuetenango. Like Zaculeu, it was built on an isolated bluff surrounded and protected by ravines. It was one of the K'iche' Mayan capitals until it was conquered by the Spanish with the help of the Kaqchikel Indians in the early 1500s.
These ancient cities of the Mayans were pretty much the same, unexcavated mounds of dirt, containing temple-pyramids and government palaces grouped around a series of plazas, and a ballcourt for the playing of the Mesoamerican ballgame. Zaculeu was no different, and abandoned in 1525, around the same time as the others were abandoned. However, in the late 1940s during my elementary school years, the United Fruit Company excavated and restored it, essentially by clearing the mounds away and covering the pyramids, ballpark, and plazas with concrete.
Now, why is any of this important? Well, maybe it isn't really important because it is so much ancient history and so personal to my history. But, it also fills in some of the cracks that have informed me in connection with what I believe and how I have become involved in the third sector.
The first is the recognition that I was raised in a Christian family that devoted itself to its religious calling and service to others. As a result, it was in that family that I learned what was important to life and the meaning of calling and stewardship. I don't mean to suggest that these are simply religious terms, which clearly they are. But rather, that there is a difference between being called to serve to poor and others in need, as opposed to being driven to be successful; that my talents, experiences, time, and material resources are held in trust to that end; that my interest is only that of being a steward. Stewardship not only involves what I do with my resources, talents, experiences and time, but how I am accountable for what I do and to whom do I owe that accountability.
Secondly, the one lesson I learned well from my parents, their colleagues, and my personal experiences and history, was that whenever I am in a country other than my own, I am a guest in that country. This has several effects, some of which may be contrary to many of the INGOs that are participating in the INGO Charter. That does not mean that I discount the importance of what organizations, like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, CIVICUS World Alliance, Earthrights International, Transparency International, and similar groups do. But, that just is not where I am right now.
I am reminded of what I wrote in one of my posts on Haiti last year, that Haiti is really not able to progress and be an effective self-governing country because of the large NGO sector there, almost acting in a parallel sort of fashion doing the things the government should be doing. My father always respected the host country government, and dealt professionally and courteously with most of the individuals identified in this post. My family was in Guatemala to serve the people of Guatemala, not to advance some political or socio-economic agenda. He did not spend a lot of time being concerned about some effectiveness or impact evaluation of his work. He was okay with letting the United Fruit Company worry about that.
A third lesson I learned was that governments deserve a certain sense of skepticism, both with respect to what they can deliver in terms of social services and good government, and in how they can regulate all sectors of national life. This is not to say that I am anti-government in any way. However, as one who has worked for the United States government for almost 50 years, but who also spent his formative years in Guatemala, I have learned that governments, no matter where they are located and at what level they operate, are not able to provide for all the needs of all of the people, and still allow a decent level of personal freedom and personal responsibility. I also understand that through legal and regulatory regimes, and the exercise of executive powers, civil society organizations may be restricted in what they can do, either through registration processes or regulatory enforcement mechanisms, and that charities will often owe their existence to governmental decisions.
A fourth thing I learned that wherever I am, any effectiveness in my service through charity takes place in the context of relationships. That involves learning about the history, culture, and traditions of the people with whom I work and to whom I offer assistance. In foreign countries to my own, that involves learning the language, meeting and knowing the people and their interests and needs. As a child, my playing with the indigenous children my age tended to inform my beliefs and motivations when dealing with people and their needs. My father brought into his circle of advisers, including as member of the boards of several organizations he led, national Guatemalan leaders, technicians, and specialists. Not because it was required by law at that time. Rather, he wanted the relationship and advice of those who knew the country, its history, its people, and wanted to be a part of the mission of his organization. My father not only loved his work, he most of all loved the Guatemalans. Proud as we were to be Americans, we understood that America did not have all the answers.
As an illustration, I joined my mother and father, and sister and brother-in-law in a trip to Guatemala many years ago for the 40th anniversary celebration of the radio station my father founded. As we were having breakfast in the guest apartment one morning, a Guatemalan Indian woman came to the door with a basket of Guatemalan tamales. She had worked with or for my parents in the late 1940s, and had left her village early that morning, long before sunrise to walk miles and then to take an early morning bus to Guatemala City on the chance she might see our family. We sat around the table eating those wonderful tamales she had made with such care catching up on 50 years of personal history.
Ten years later, or 11 years ago, my brother and I went to Guatemala to take part in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Radio Cultural TGN, TGNA. I had been in the offices in the studio building when one of the staff members approached me to tell me of an elderly woman that was waiting for me in the crowd of several thousand. I went out to see who might be looking for me, and found a woman, then in her mid-90s, waiting patiently on a park bench for the chance to see me. She had left her home in Huehuetenango that morning around 4:00 to travel by bus to the Capital. She knew my father and mother had died, but thought I might be there to represent the family on this important anniversary event. She really had no way of knowing whether that would be the case. But, for the next two days, she did not leave my side during the programs at the radio station or in the Olympic Stadium. She was just one of the many people my parents served.
The fifth lesson I learned as a boy was the importance of accountability. In those days, and to a lesser extent today, most missionary societies in Europe and the United States required their missionary workers to raise their financial support as they went out around the world; to Africa, India, China and other parts of Asia, and Central and South America. We now call this deputized fundraising. I guess to be clear about the nature of this effort and make sure that there was no misunderstanding by the government concerning compliance with its tax laws. Funds were raised from organizations, churches, individuals, etc., by those individuals preparing to go out into missionary service, with the donations made directly to the mission society, from which salaries and expenses and project costs would be covered.
I remember evenings as my father sat down with his typewriter writing personal thank you letters and reports of his work to those who had made donations to the mission society for my parents' support. He did this for almost 60 years, right up to shortly before he died. During his return trips to the U.S., he would make every conceivable effort to visit those people, organizations, and churches that had made donations to his work. My father and mother believed that their work represented a team effort, and that they were the point of the spear, whereas those donating the funds were every bit as important to the success, however it was defined, of the work they were doing.
My parents never bought into the modern maxim that big is good, that bigger is better, and that biggest is best.
Rather than be concerned about how someone defined success, or how their successes, however defined, were adequately perceived by others, they simply sought to be faithful in all they did, whether it was in their work in Guatemala and later around the world, or in how they maintained their communication with those donors that made it all possible.
Old fashion, isn't it? But this was the environment in which I grew into adulthood, and these are some of the things that shape my thinking, even today. I suspect that there are other things that I learned in life concerning the sector, but these are a few that came to mind as I was reflecting on my life and writing down these few thoughts.
By the way, I do still love Guatemala and the Guatemalan people.