Dr. Rafael Espada, Former Vice President of Guatemala (2008 - 2012)

After Dr. Robicsek’s opening remarks welcoming Dr. Rafael Espada to Charlotte, the former vice president of Guatemala took the podium to address members and guests of the World Affairs Council of Charlotte. Dr. Espada outlined his presentation illustrating the situation in Central America with a spotlight on Guatemala.

Central America is separated into small and independent nations. Competing against one another economically and occasionally physically, the countries of Central America are divided. However, from an outsider perspective, Central America is seen as a cohesive unit, not entirely distinguishable into separate countries. Dr. Espada believes that Central America should work together, and create an actual unified region that will benefit that part of the world from an economic, global security and foreign policy perspective.

In population size alone, there are approximately 100 million people representing Central America from Guatemala to Panama, which in turn characterizes the strength of the region.  In addition, Central America is economically flush with energy, water, and various agricultural products. Drug trafficking could be severely diminished with 100% participation from each country.  Additionally, Dr. Espada supports the idea of a Central American Parliament that would govern, but with each nation to retain its own identity in the process.

Shifting from his views on Central America, Dr. Espada continues his presentation to the WAC Charlotte by focusing on Guatemala. With over 14 million inhabitants, Guatemala suffers from poverty and inequality as 51% of the population is poor and 15% extremely poor. Half of the children under the age of five suffer chronic malnutrition. Military expenditures of the state are 11% of GNP while health expenditures are only 4%. As a former heart surgeon, Dr. Espada saw firsthand the lack of medical attention to the Guatemalan population. UNICAR, the Guatemalan Institute of Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, developed in 1994, provides cardiac surgery for the indigent population. The development was a direct result of Dr. Francis Robicsek’s, Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Carolinas Medical Center, involvement in the area as well as Dr. Espada’s willingness to work with UNICAR.

The second portion of the lecture centered on Guatemalan politics and governance. When Dr. Espada became Guatemala’s vice president in 2008, he aimed at tackling four main issues in society: corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and violence. Guatemala was overrun by these four crises. It was missing $15 million alone in taxes every year. In fact, the United States under the Bush administration refused to provide more economic aid since most of the funds were squandered by the Guatemalan government.

Dr. Espada made it his personal objective to resolve these issues in order to promote prosperity in Guatemala. He created the position of Presidential Secretary for Transparency, constructed the Freedom of Information Act, and helped pass the National Archives Law. For example, when the Freedom of Information Act went into action, officials were able to locate $82 million that had gone missing from inside congress in only one year. The Public Expense Observatory was created as well as the Prequalified Project and Investment Council in order for the government to work with only approved agencies and companies. Commissions against Money Laundering and Contraband were established. Today, Guatemala is working internationally to promote transparency and accountability in government, as seen in its work with Global Financial Integrity.

Dr. Rafael Espada’s closing remarks were to look to the future and move forward. The 21st century’s legacy is one to be based on humanity and what one person does for another. Dr. Espada embodies this view of the 21st century through his work in both the medical field and the political sphere.

Summarized by Wilson Hallett, Washington and Lee University