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‘India is like home’

‘There can be better reciprocity which can lead to an even better relationship… I have faith in the Indian government currently in power,’ says His Excellency Georges de La Roche Du Ronzet, the Ambassador of Guatemala to India, in his interview with Prof. Om Gupta, Editor, Diplomacy

Before we discuss the situation at present and the possibilities in the future, can we go back to the past? I wish to know how the Spanish invasion affected Guatemala.
The Spanish conquest devastated the native population of Guatemala, imposing Christianity on its people. In an effort to wipe out Mayan history, all books were burnt, with the exception of the Dresden Codex which has survived in its entirety. Columbus was of the notion that the Guatemalan souls had to be baptised. As a result, many Catholic churches were built over monastic temples. Even in Mexico, the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral was built on top of an Aztec temple. Having said that, I must point out that Mayans themselves were not a peace-loving people. Their villages were constantly at war with each other. The presence of 26 languages is proof enough that Mayan society was not homogenous.

How has society in Guatemala changed or evolved?
The society has become pluricultural and this holds good for most of Latin America. There is an increase in people’s involvement with, and acceptance of, global cultures. Interestingly, a large population of Indians has settled in Trinidad and the Caribbean. This includes many from UP and Bihar. One can even find references to Bhojpuri in Surinamese Creole.

Racism does not exist in Guatemala anymore. In fact, it is often compared with Costa Rica, which has a homogenous outlook. The reason being that all Costa Rican villages were destroyed during the invasion, leading Costa Rica to adopt an alien culture and thus become more westernised.

How do you react to the absence of Islam in Guatemala?
Islam is growing in Guatemala. There are a number of Lebanese mosques. And I don’t see it as a problem at all. In fact, Mormon, Jesuit and Evangelist influences are also increasing. Even Roman Catholicism has seen resurgence due to Pope Francis who has very liberal views. He is a people’s person and is very well accepted. I see an overall resurgence of religion in Guatemala.

How do you relate to India?
To me, being in India is like being at home in Guatemala. When I wake up in the morning, I can hear the fruitseller go by the house on his bicycle, shouting out the list of fruits he is selling. It is the same in Guatemala on any morning. When I’m out for work, I often see men napping in their trucks, tired after driving throughout the night, a sight that is common in Guatemala too. The people in both the countries are event-oriented and not time-bound. And I just love eating roasted corn brushed with lemon, sold by the side of the street here. We have the same snack back home.

There can be better reciprocity which can lead to an even better relationship. It has to be a win-win situation for both countries

Besides the cultural commonalities between Guatemala and India, an important fact is that they were both colonies. Guatemala was a Spanish colony and India a British colony. But this commonality had a huge difference. My perception is that the British did not interfere with the religion in India whereas the Spanish tried to destroy the existing faith, and imposed their own.

Also, Spain brought a large part of its ‘machismo’ to its colonies which had its origins in the Moorish invasion. I see a version of the same in India’s history where women were burnt when their husbands died….

Contrary to the Spanish, the British heard the pleas of Raja Ram Mohun Roy and interfered to put an end to this malpractice. Unfortunately, even today, many ill-fated women are sent to Banaras to dwell in a community of widows since they are viewed as an economic burden by their families.

How can the ties between Guatemala and India be strengthened?
We are a member of the NAM, like India, and we not only want to strengthen our ties with it but also make our presence felt in Asia. We share many principles with the current government in power, including the Act East Policy/Look East Policy.

In India, we want to be a part of the economic and commercial action. For this to happen, India has to liberalise its market and make it less protective. The duty levied on imports from Guatemala is 60-110 per cent, compared to the 0-15 per cent duty paid by Indian companies selling their products in Guatemala. An example would be the cardamom export from Guatemala, 90 per cent of which is sent to India, a large bracket. The import duty on this is 110 per cent!

I feel there can be better reciprocity which can lead to an even better relationship. It has to be a win-win situation for both countries. I have faith in the government currently in power in India. Having said this, I’d have to say that I still see a roadblock. This is the structure of the bureaucratic system in India. It is too large and haphazard. It is difficult to get things done here. In Guatemala the bureaucracy is streamlined.

Can you please name a few Indian companies who are exporting to Guatemala?
Bajaj, Mahindra, Hero, Caplin Point, Cipla and Isgec are some.

How many Indians are settled in Guatemala and how many visas are issued every year?
There are about a hundred Indians in Guatemala. We give out around 75 visas each year, most of these being business visas.

In the end, a question of the common man, what is the 13th Bak’tun in the Mayan calendar cycle?
Ah! (The Ambassador chuckles) The Mayan calendar….. It moves in cycles with the last cycle ending in 2012. This has been wrongly interpreted as the end of the world. It marks the dawn of a new era, a new cycle. And Professor, aren’t we there already?

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