The next Guatemalan administration, to whichever political stripe it belongs (at the time of writing, the election was undecided, with a second round of voting to be held early in November), is likely to keep the social programmes instituted by the administration of outgoing president Alvaro Colom (pictured). Giving the programmes continuity and improving and expanding them is a key pledge of all 10 presidential candidates. Chief and most successful among the programmes, collectively known as Social Cohesion, is the cash transfer scheme called Mi Familia Progresa, which alone has accounted for almost half of the $900 million spent on Social Cohesion since its launch in 2008. The scheme, like similar programmes operating in other Latin American countries and elsewhere, provides poor families with children with a monthly cash payment of just under $40, conditional on school attendance and up-to-date medical check-ups and vaccinations. According to recent studies, the programme is showing results: ‘Immunization rates among children under two in the beneficiary households were up to 15 per cent higher than among children in other households,’ says a 2009-10 impact evaluation by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health (INSP). In addition, school enrolment rates were up to 5 per cent higher among children between the ages of 7 and 15 in the recipient group.
The study results and the unanimously favourable view of the programme in political circles notwithstanding, not everyone is an unqualified admirer. Higinio Pu Cach, of Mayan indigenous organization Wajxaquib’ noj’, told IPS News that he worried that the social programmes, especially Mi Familia Progresa and Bolsa Solidaria, could be held hostage by political interests and alleged that ‘sometimes the aid is only granted to those who belong to the governing party’. This allegation was echoed by Nineth Montenegro, of the leftist Encuentro por Guatemala party, who claims that the assistance ‘is given to the poor, but they are asked to campaign and they are extorted to vote for one party’.