Guatemala and the Council of Social Cohesion: A Family Progresses

Posted by on January 26, 2011 in Central America, Strategy - 2 Comments

Many of us social bravehearts work in pretty tough countries, countries where it is easy to get frustrated by the magnitude of the problems they face…so I want to share an example of a country with a lot of seemingly insurmountable tragedies (Guatemala) and two leaders (among many) who have continued to trudge forward, despite what many others cast aside as “a hopeless state.”

36 years of civil war is a hard act to follow, but President Álvaro Colom and First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom may be Guatemala’s best attempt yet. Elected in 2008 under the National Unity of Hope party platform, Colom promised an aggressive focus on the country’s staggering extreme poverty rates – one of the highest in Latin America – and firm financial reform. And without missing a beat, his government did just that.

That same year, the Council for Social Cohesion was founded and a number of far-reaching, well-funded programs were put into place:

1. Mi Familia Progresa/ My Family Progresses – an monetary effort to bring health care and education to families in need, via government subsidies
2. Escuelas Abiertas/Open Schools – 200+ schools are opened on the weekends to offer educational activities and a safe environment. This action is aimed to prevent the juvenile delinquency that often arises from Guatemala’s 52% young person unemployment rate.
3. Bolsa Solidarias/ Food Bags – periodic food relief given to poor families
4. Programa de Alfabetización/ Literacy Program – an aim to combat illiteracy at all levels of the population
5. Comedores Solidarias/ Shared Dining Rooms – shelters where a meal and drink are given.

For how a couple be so ambitious in a country that faces statistics like 77% under 5 infant mortality rates and one of the highest crime rates in the world, one only has to look at their history. Before Colom became President of Guatemala, he acted as the Executive Director of the National Fund for Peace (Fonapaz) which assisted in the re-housing of tens of thousands of refugees at the end of the civil conflict in 1996. This organization also helped generate 75 new business and create thousands of jobs. “Humanitarian” has almost always been a part of his mission.

His wife and First Lady, Sandra Torres, started the National Coordination of Women where she attracted over 30,000 Guatemalan women (indigenous and non alike) in the fight for recognizing their rights. She supported the Initiative of Law Against Feminicide and the Initiative of Law for Responsible Parenting, both approved in 2008. As First Lady, she has taken on the primary leadership role in all of the programs mentioned above under the Council of Social Cohesion.

Guatemala has waited a long time for leadership like this. The security woes and environmental damage still continue, corruption persists, and it’s a long way before poverty is a whisper, but Colom and Torres have set clear priorities that offer clear progress and for that, they must be commended.


Ashley is a friend of anyone who is fighting the good fight for social change. She has worked for environmental advocacy in Montana, poverty eradication in Guatemala, and peace and conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. She now lives in Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain where she teaches International Relations English and is pursuing her Masters in Language Acquisition in Multicultural Settings.

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2 Comments on "Guatemala and the Council of Social Cohesion: A Family Progresses"

  1. apinto May 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm ·

    Its the first time I entered this website and I liked what I saw, social entrepreneurs fighting social problems by continually creating value and never just handing things for free. This last part being the most important. I live in Guatemala city and I agree with the problems the author says we have, we are far from being a developed country and we have a long path ahead of us. But I sincerely believe that the social programs the presidential couple started are harming the country more than helping.
    It goes completely against the idea of social entrepreneurship (why is it in the website?), all the tax money that could have gone to improve the roads and highways, to improve security, create jobs, etc. was given away in baskets of food for a couple of families around the country. I am not saying they don’t need it or that if some people want to donate money to help them that they shouldn’t, what I am saying is that first it’s not the answer and second it shouldn’t be the government the one giving it away since it’s the taxpayers money (perhaps an NGO should do it, one that receives money from people´s donations). The government should stick on ensuring private property and security.
    One of the problems this article points out, and in my opinion it’s the biggest one, is corruption. I am sad to say that this is precisely what this “social programs” are. Regarding the past of this “amazing” presidential couple you should know that they used to be guerilla members, that’s right, she used to support the communist and socialist movements in the country, and after all the struggle and blood our people suffered to protect our democracy and capitalism one of those lunatics is running the country. Its sad, because with programs like these they are able to persuade noneducated Guatemalans into voting for them. I don’t know if you know that right now these two are manipulating the constitution so she can run for presidency when her husband’s term is over, the list goes on and on with these two.
    I understand that when you hear or read about these programs they sound great, but when you are living them and you see what they bring; its easy to see they are not the answer. I just wanted to clarify that this couple aren’t saints and saviors of Guatemala, they are the reason Guatemalans are going to suffer poverty for a few more years, why some children are going to feel hunger for awhile, and why everybody is going to expect the government to solve their problems instead of working hard in order to solve them yourself. Don’t write about them, not to mention idolatrize these two persons; at least not in a social ENTREPRENURSHIP website!

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