During her recent visit to New York, where she served as Grand Marshall of the city's Hispanic Heritage Day Parade, Guatemala's Vice-President, Roxana Baldetti, sat down for an exclusive interview with FOX News Latino. Baldetti, who took office in January 2012, is the first female Vice-President of Guatemala.
She spoke about what her role in politics means for other women, as well as issues related to tourism and safety for travelers visiting her country. We started, though, by talking about her use of social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, for reaching Guatemalans at home and abroad.
Q: Can you tell us about the role that social media played in your campaign and the role it plays now in your work as Vice-President?
A: Early on in the campaign, there was a discussion about whether I should engage in social media at all. I am active in social media now, but we had to make a distinction early on: Where does Roxana Baldetti end and the Vice-President begin? I made that decision immediately because in the 21st century, social media is the fastest, most efficient way to communicate with the public, whether it's someone in Guatemala or someone anywhere else in the world.
Using twitter, we conducted an initiative called “#nuevaruta” (“#newroute”), through which any Guatemalan, or anyone, really, could tell us what they wanted from the new administration by using this hash tag. The initiative was extremely popular and useful. People even told us what they already thought we were doing wrong, and what had been done wrong in the past.
I use twitter, Facebook... anything that seems relevant and reaches people. To not use social media as a way to communicate would be a wasted opportunity.
Q: What role does tourism play in Guatemala's economy?
A: It's number two in terms of contributions to the GDP. Number one is family remittances sent from Guatemalans living abroad. Tourism is second, then, but unfortunately, the overall rate of visitors to Guatemala has declined recently due to past problems we have had with crime and delinquency. Because we've been working on reducing delinquency, I'm happy to say crime has started to decrease.
It has been four years since we've had any cruise ship tourism, but we are preparing to initiate cruise travel again. This month, we reopened our ports and we're positioned to receive 80 ships by the end of this year. In the past four years, we received zero ships. The government's goal is to receive up to 500 cruise ships per year between our two ports.
Apart from cruise ship tourism, we've made a massive effort this year to promote Baktun (a cycle on the Mayan long-count calendar) so that visitors can learn more about our Mayan heritage. In particular, we're promoting December 21, the next Baktun.
Q: Could you talk about issues of safety in Guatemala and perceptions of insecurity as they relate to tourism?
A: We are in the process of creating an international airport designed specifically for tourists. It's going to be located in northern Guatemala in the department of Izabal. From there, we can bring tourists to the capital or to the heart of Mayan culture and the areas that have traditionally been tourist destinations. In the south, as I mentioned already, we're reopening our cruise ports.
With respect to security, our administration has reduced the daily death rate [by violent, criminal means] by 10%; however, we know we have much more work to do. One form of criminal activity that has been most difficult for us to control are armed attacks on buses. We've also seen that as we reduce crime in the capital, those who have been perpetrating crime move out of the city and into the interior departments [provinces], especially Jutiapa and Chiquimula, which border El Salvador. Obviously, narco-trafficking has an effect on the crime rates in those departments.
Q: Could you talk about PROATUR, the tourist assistance program?
A: Yes. This program has been very successful. At the beginning of our administration, Guatemala had many problems with crimes that victimized tourists. Through the PROATUR program, tourists can be received at the airport and accompanied to their destination so that they aren't attacked on buses. The program is called “Rutas Seguras” [“Secure Routes”] because the state provides security. Right now, we have three routes, and are in the process of adding a fourth.
Q: What areas and attractions would you recommend travelers visit in Guatemala?
A: All of Guatemala! We truly have everything. Do you want history? Well, we have history. We have centuries worth of history in the Mayan culture. Do you want ecotourism? In Guatemala, you can be near nature and see animals that are in danger of extinction. Do you want the city life? We've got both contemporary and colonial cities. Do you want the beach? We're one of the few countries in the world that has volcanic black sand beaches. Do you want peace and quiet? We have many mystical places where you can get back in touch with yourself. And if you want cheap surgery, we've got excellent world-class clinics and doctors.
Q: What are your primary goals as Vice-President, and what legacy would you like to leave?
A: Well, first of all, I have a massive responsibility, being the first woman to hold the office of Vice-President in Guatemala. I'm particularly focused on issues related to gender because if I'm a woman and I have a chance to influence policies that will help women, then I have a double responsibility to do so. I have a responsibility to improve opportunities for women, to improve the treatment of women, and, especially, to protect girls. This is a theme that no one wants to talk about but we must talk about it. It is braver and more noble to tell the truth about our countries than it is to hide it. I want people to remember Roxana Baldetti, the first female Vice-President of Guatemala, as a person who worked on these issues, and I believe that I'm an opening for a woman to become president of Guatemala.
Julie Schwietert Collazo is a freelance writer based in New York City.