Church Presses Guatemala for More Social Spending

5 Years After Peace Pacts, the Nation Still Struggles

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GUATEMALA CITY, OCT. 5, 2001 ( Catholic Church representatives are pressing Guatemalan leaders for reforms to improve the country´s social, political and economic situation.

The Guatemalan bishops´ conference appealed to the government to give priority to social funding, to reduce military expenditures, to show more openness, and to comply with the 1996 peace agreements that ended the 36-year civil war.

At a meeting Wednesday in the premises of the bishops´ conference here, the country´s prelates met with President Alfonso Portillo, Vice President Francisco Reyes and five Cabinet Ministers.

Portillo told the press that he and his Ministers were told where they had failed, what remains to be done, and what they had left undone. They were also asked to increase social funding and reduce defense spending.

According to the president, the Church leaders made it clear that the country is suffering structural problems and needs reforms to combat poverty. They blamed the current crisis on years of injustice, he said.

About 80% of Guatemala´s 12 million inhabitants live in poverty. Corruption scandals, streets protests and higher taxes are rampant, and rumors of a coming coup d´etat have circulated for months.

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