ON THE SITUATION OF
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
The Preamble to the American Convention states that: “The ideal of free
men enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are
created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as
well as his civil and political rights.”
In addition, the Preamble to the Protocol of San Salvador underscores the
close relationship that exists between economic, social, and cultural rights and
civil and political rights, in that the different categories of rights
constitute an indivisible whole based on the recognition of the dignity of the
human person; this is the reason why both require permanent protection and
promotion if they are to be fully realized, and why the violation of some rights
in favor of the realization of others can never be justified.
An analysis of the present state of economic, social, and cultural rights
in Guatemala needs to be approached from a historic perspective in order to
understand both the current problems and the progress that has been made as well
as the challenges that the future holds. In this regard, we refer to the
conclusions of the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), which
structure and nature of economic, cultural and social relations in Guatemala are
marked by profound exclusion, antagonism and conflict — a reflection of its
anti-democratic nature of the Guatemalan political tradition has its roots in an
economic structure, which is marked by the concentration of productive wealth in
the hands of a minority. This established the foundations of a system of
multiple exclusions, including elements of racism, which is, in turn, the most
profound manifestation of a violent and dehumanising social system. The State
gradually evolved as an instrument for the protection of this structure,
guaranteeing the continuation of exclusion and injustice.
absence of an effective state social policy, with the exception of the period
from 1944 to 1955, accentuated this historical dynamic of exclusion. In many
cases, more recent State policy has produced inequality, or, at the very least,
endemic institutional weaknesses have accentuated it. Proof of this can be seen
in the fact that, during the twenty years of Guatemala’s most rapid economic
growth (1960-1980), state social spending and taxation were the lowest in
to its exclusionary nature, the State was incapable of achieving social
consensus around a national project able to unite the whole population.
Concomitantly, it abandoned its role as mediator between divergent social and
economic interests, thus creating a gulf which made direct confrontation between
them more likely.
a vicious circle was created in which social injustice led to protest and
subsequently political instability, to which there were always only two
responses: repression or military coups. Faced with movements proposing
economic, political, social or cultural change, the State increasingly resorted
to violence and terror in order to maintain social control. Political violence
was thus a direct expression of structural violence.
parallel phenomena, such as structural injustice, the closing of political
spaces, racism, the increasing exclusionary and anti-democratic nature of
institutions, as well as the reluctance to promote substantive reforms that
could have reduced structural conflicts, are the underlying factors which
determined the origin and subsequent outbreak of the armed confrontation.
As a result of this situation, whereby the economic development of the
vast majority of Guatemalan society has been historically delayed, the Agreement
on Social and Economic Aspects and Agrarian Situation was
signed as part of the 1996 peace accords. This agreement states that: “A firm
and lasting peace must be consolidated on the basis of social and economic
development directed towards the common good, meeting the needs of the whole
population. This is necessary in
order to overcome the poverty, extreme poverty, discrimination and social and
political margination which have impeded and distorted the country's social,
economic, cultural and political development and have represented a source of
conflict and instability.”
In this report the Commission will study only some of the social,
cultural, and economic rights set forth in the Additional Protocol to the
American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights, the “Protocol of San Salvador.” This analysis will be conducted in
light of the provisions of the Protocol of San Salvador and the terms of the
Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects and Agrarian Situation. It will also
strive to pay due attention to the country’s indigenous inhabitants, who
account for more than 50 percent of the population, and to rural areas, in that
Guatemala is essentially a rural country, with some 60 percent of the population
inhabiting rural areas and most of the country’s foreign currency being earned
from the land.,
Against this backdrop, the Commission will first analyze Guatemala’s Human
Development Index (HDI) from a comparative perspective. It will then analyze the
country’s health and education provisions, including as they apply to persons
with disabilities. Further, it will
describe the terms of the Fiscal Pact, one the main tools being used to bring
about sustainable social development in Guatemala.
Finally, it will offer its conclusions and recommendations.
October 6, 2000, Guatemala deposited its ratification of the Additional Protocol
to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, the “Protocol of San Salvador,” with the General
Secretariat of the Organization of American States. The Commission values this
initiative by the Guatemalan State, and hopes that the Protocol of San Salvador
will be fully implemented and serve to promote and ensure greater social justice
has the hemisphere’s second most unequal distribution of income: the richest
fifth of the population receives 63 percent of the country’s total income,
while the poorest fifth receives only 2.1 percent. In addition, 39.8 percent of
the population earn less than one U.S. dollar a day. It is estimated that 57
percent of the country’s inhabitants live below the poverty line.
economic development is essential for ensuring public investment and achieving
social goals. Recognizing the importance of this, the Agreement on Social and
Economic Aspects stated that “the country’s accelerated growth is necessary
to create jobs and social development.” Thus, in the peace accords, the
Government agreed to adopt economic policies that would bring about the
sustained growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) at rates no less than 6
percent per annum, so that an advanced social policy could be pursued. The
growth in Guatemala’s GDP in recent years has been as follows: 1997, 4.3%;
1998, 5.1%; 1999, 3.6%; and 2000, 3.6% (estimated).
9. We can thus see that in 1997 and 1998, the Guatemalan economy reported growth rates in accordance with the targets set in the peace accords. These increased figures were essentially due to higher public investment and greater macroeconomic stability. However, the 1999 result and the estimated figure for 2000 are well below the 6 percent goal, which means lower job creation rates and lower income levels for the population.
Human Development Index (HDI)
10. In the
year 2000 HDI survey, Guatemala’s ranked 120th out of a total of 174
countries. This meant that Guatemala had the hemisphere’s second lowest HDI,
down the Human Development Index by geographical regions, the metropolitan
region (Department of Guatemala) had the highest HDI figure. In contrast, the
northern and northwestern regions, which have the highest proportions of
indigenous inhabitants, reported the lowest figures. Thus, the income of the
metropolitan region rose from 1.6 times the national average in 1989 to 2.1
times the average in 1994; the figure then stabilized at 2.0 in 1998. In
contrast, the corresponding figure for northwestern region, where incomes are
lowest, fell from slightly more than half the national average in 1989 (0.6
times) to about half in 1994 (0.5) and less than half in 1998 (0.4).,
A regional breakdown of Guatemala’s HDI figures appears in the following
figures also reveal that in 1998 the HDI was higher than in both 1994 and 1989,
with improvements at both the regional and nationwide levels. As stated by the
United Nations Development Programme, “the improved indices were chiefly the
result of increased life expectancy, followed by higher income levels.
Improvements in education, while considerable over the period, did not lead to a
greater level of participation in education in the 1994-1998 period.”
around 60 percent of Guatemala’s population lives in rural areas, analyzing
HDI evolution in both urban and rural regions is essential. For the country as a
whole, rural HDI was 14 percentage points lower than its urban counterpart.
Similarly, as indicated by the following figures, the lowest urban HDI (0.60, in
the northwestern region) was higher than the highest rural HDI (0.55, in the
central region), with the exception of the metropolitan region (where the figure
The table below contains a breakdown of Guatemala’s rural and urban HDI
figures show how necessary it is that the actions taken to promote human
development and social equality cover both rural and urban areas and involve
criteria other than the merely geographical; all the more so because
Guatemala’s population is predominantly rural. That requires that any actions
upon which the State embarks must truly benefit the community as a whole and not
just those areas with the highest levels of development.
13 of the Protocol of San Salvador contains the following provisions regarding
the right to an education:
1. Everyone has the
right to education.
2. The States Parties to
this Protocol agree that education should be directed towards the full
development of the human personality and human dignity and should strengthen
respect for human rights, ideological pluralism, fundamental freedoms, justice
and peace. They further agree that education ought to enable everyone to
participate effectively in a democratic and pluralistic society and achieve a
decent existence and should foster understanding, tolerance and friendship among
all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups and promote activities
for the maintenance of peace.
3. The States Parties to
this Protocol recognize that in order to achieve the full exercise of the right
Primary education should be compulsory and accessible to all without
Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and
vocational secondary education, should be made generally available and
accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the
progressive introduction of free education;
Higher education should be made equally accessible to all, on the basis
of individual capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the
progressive introduction of free education;
Basic education should be encouraged or intensified as far as possible
for those persons who have not received or completed the whole cycle of primary
Programs of special education should be established for the handicapped,
so as to provide special instruction and training to persons with physical
disabilities or mental deficiencies.
In conformity with the domestic legislation of the States Parties,
parents should have the right to select the type of education to be given to
their children, provided that it conforms to the principles set forth above.
Nothing in this Protocol shall be interpreted as a restriction of the
freedom of individuals and entities to establish and direct educational
institutions in accordance with the domestic legislation of the States Parties.
16. At no
time in Guatemalan history has education been a priority area for the State. The
proportion of GDP spent on education has always been minimal, traditionally the
lowest in the Central American region.
Moreover, access to education was restricted for the poorest segments of society
and the inhabitants of rural areas. “In 1998, according to projections based
on the most recent census data, 61 percent of men and 67 percent of women aged
over seven had total schooling levels of less than three years of primary
education, and almost 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women had never
The National Statistics Institute (INE) calculates that the average schooling
level in Guatemala totals no more than 2.3 years.
Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects refers specifically to education,
saying that it plays a key role in Guatemala’s economic, cultural, social, and
18. In the
peace accords, the Government agreed to implement “significant increases in
the resources allocated to education. By the year 2000, the Government proposes
to step up public spending on education as a proportion of gross domestic
product by at least 50 percent over its 1995 level.”
1995, overall funding for education has increased; however, as a proportion of
GDP, it is still among the lowest in Latin America. Between 1994 and 1998,
overall spending on education was as follows:
20. As can
be seen from these figures, a major increase in annual education spending will
be needed to resolve Guatemala’s education problems.
literacy rates, around 31.7 percent of the Guatemalan population are unable to
read or write. Over the past decade (1989 to 1999), illiteracy has been reduced
by 8.9 percent. In rural areas, illiteracy can be as high as 40 percent, with
rates of 39.4 percent among women and 29.7 percent among men. In urban areas, it
stands at 15 percent, with significant differences between the figures for men
(10.3%) and women (18.8%).
The Commission has received information indicating that by law, one percent of
the state budget must be spent on fighting illiteracy. The following tables
offer a general overview of illiteracy in Guatemala:
22. In spite
of the progress that has been made, Guatemala has Latin America’s second
highest illiteracy rate, surpassed only by Haiti.
It is fundamental that efforts to reduce illiteracy in Guatemala
to education in Guatemala is still characterized by restrictions and exclusion:
only 55 percent of children attend primary school, 19.5 percent attend secondary
school, and only 4.8 percent go on to higher education.
The following table shows net attendance rates by regions and academic levels
for the years 1989, 1994, and 1998.
are alarming figures for the future of Guatemala, particularly as there is an
“inability to provide the majority of its population with a minimum of
learning, even though they represent the nation’s future.”
The Guatemalan State must make great efforts to expand the coverage of
education, which is the key to sustainable development.
Commission would like to make specific reference to one item in the Agreement on
Social and Economic Aspects: the Government’s commitment to design and
implement a national civic education program for democracy and peace that would
promote the protection of human rights, the renewal of political culture, and
the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The Commission has received information
indicating that the funds allocated to this Civic Education Program have been
minimal and, as a result, its development has been limited.
Article 10 of the Protocol of San Salvador contains the following
provisions regarding the right to health:
Everyone shall have the right to health, understood to mean the enjoyment
of the highest level of physical, mental and social well-being.
In order to ensure the exercise of the right to health, the States
Parties agree to recognize health as a public good and, particularly, to adopt
the following measures to ensure that right:
Primary health care, that is, essential health care made available to all
individuals and families in the community;
Extension of the benefits of health services to all individuals subject
to the State's jurisdiction;
Universal immunization against the principal infectious diseases;
Prevention and treatment of endemic, occupational and other diseases;
Education of the population on the prevention and treatment of health
Satisfaction of the health needs of the highest risk groups and of those
whose poverty makes them the most vulnerable.
Guatemalan state spending on health care provisions has been very low.
As a result, as shall be seen below, Guatemala’s health standards are among
the lowest in Latin America.
The Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects makes particular mention of
health. It says that the health sector must undertake a process of reform aimed
at ensuring effective exercise of this right “by the population,” based on
an integrated approach to health (including prevention, promotion, recovery, and
29. In 1997,
the Ministry of Health began work on reforming the health sector, with the
stated goals of extending health service coverage, increasing its ability to
resolve problems, and improving service capacity. In mid-1997 the Integral
Health Care System (SIAS) was created, with the goal of expanding primary health
care through agreements with local-area health NGOs that provide specific
individuals with attention in exchange for a per-person fee. Preliminary figures
available to the Commission indicate that the SIAS has brought about increased
health care coverage, but that the system suffers from certain shortages of
materials and services.
30. In the
peace accords the Government agreed to increase public spending on health, as a
percentage of GDP, by at least 50 percent compared with the 1995 level. Overall
funding for health care and social assistance over the period 1995-1999 was as
CARE AND SOCIAL ASSISTANCE:
TARGETS SET IN THE PEACE ACCORDS
Report on Human Development – Guatemala 2000. UNDP.
1 “All human rights
are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The
international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal
manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the
significance of national and regional particularities and various
historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is
the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural
systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental
freedoms.” Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (part I, paragraph
5), adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, June 25, 1993
(A/CONF.157/24(Part I), cap.III).
Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification, Guatemala:
Memory of Silence, Volume V, Conclusions and Recommendations, p. 21.
Id., pp. 21-22.
Id., p. 24.
Guatemala’s population in the year 2000 was estimated at 11.385 million.
Of these, 60.6 percent lived in rural areas, with the remaining 39.4 percent
in urban areas. The average figure for rural populations across Latin
America is 23 percent. See Reports of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the
In 1997 farm produce accounted for 57.4 percent of Guatemala’s total
exports. This is significant in comparison with the corresponding figures
for other countries with large indigenous, rural populations: in Bolivia,
for example, farm exports account for 3.1 percent of total export volume; in
Peru the figure is 8.8 percent and, in Ecuador, 31.9 percent.
“Extreme poverty is a denial of all human rights. Extreme poverty thus
establishes an indissoluble link between each of the rights accorded to the
individual. States bear the primary responsibility for giving effect to all
the rights of the extremely poor....
Extreme poverty thwarts the exercise of the
right to an adequate standard of living (art. 25 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights), and because all aspects of life are
interdependent the extremely poor are deprived of all their rights. Most of
the time they have no civil existence, are excluded from economic and social
life, and cannot exercise their rights, especially the ones relating to
their most vital needs. Extreme poverty therefore constitutes the most vivid
example of the indissoluble link which binds the various human rights to
each other.” UN Commission on Human Rights, Human
Rights and Extreme Poverty, Report by Ms. A.-M. Lizin, independent
expert, document E/CN.4/2000/52, February 25, 2000, paragraphs 2, 6, and 14.
Among the main causes noted for the slower GDP growth over 1999 and 2000 are
the following: (a) the destruction wrought by Hurricane Mitch; (b) falling
world prices for coffee, bananas, and sugar cane, and higher international
oil prices; (c) the increased budget deficit; and (d) the bankruptcy of a
number of financial institutions.
The Human Development Index is a tool used by the United Nations to measure
countries’ development, using their income levels, life expectancy
figures, and education levels.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Guatemala:
el rostro rural del desarrollo humano, 1999 (subsequently referred to as
the “UNDP Report on Guatemala, 1999”).
For the method used to calculate the HDI, see the end of this chapter.
See UNDP Report
on Guatemala, 1999.
In this regard, Guatemala has reported that major efforts are being made to
significantly improve the country’s highway network. Thus, work is
underway to improve existing highways and to construct new roads. For
example, by 2001 it is expected that 75 percent of the Cobán (Alta Verapaz)
to San Benito (Petén) highway will have been resurfaced.
In 1995, for example, Guatemala’s social spending on education was equal
to 1.8 percent of GDP. The corresponding figures for the other Central
American countries were as follows: El Salvador, 2%; Honduras, 3.7%;
Nicaragua, 4.3%; Costa Rica, 5.3%; and Panama, 4.9%. Across the whole of
Latin America, only Haiti allocates a lower proportion of its budget to
education than Guatemala. See UNDP
Report on Guatemala, 1999.
In the Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects, the Government agreed to
conduct literacy programs in all those languages in which it was technically
possible and to increase the literacy rate to 70 percent by the year 2000.
The peace accords established a commitment under which, by the year 2000,
all children aged under 12 would complete their first three years of primary
The Commission received information from the Guatemalan State indicating
that the Ministry of Education has been carrying out a series of
complementary programs intended to benefit school populations, particularly
in rural areas. These efforts include the Comprehensive Health Care Project
for Children Under Six (PAIN), the Intercultural Bilingual Education
program, and Community Preschool Education Readiness Centers (CENACEPs).
In 1994, for example, Guatemala’s state spending on the health sector was
equal to 0.9 percent of GDP, compared with 1.4% in El Salvador, 2.7% in
Honduras, 4.2% in Nicaragua, 7.4% in Costa Rica, and 6.2% in Panama. See
ECLAC Reports, 1998.
MINUGUA has said, for example,
that its checks revealed that no women had received iron sulfate or folic
acid, and that only half of them had been inoculated against tetanus. Among
children, vaccination coverage has reached a high level; however, very few
under-sixes were being monitored for growth control and none had received
iron sulfate, vitamin A, or antiparasitic agents. Most seriously, 75 percent
of the community centers visited had no stocks of oral serum, even though it
is known to be of great importance in treating diarrhea. See
MINUGUA, Fifth Report.