1979 Meeting with Fernando Romeo Lucas García, President of Guatemala from July 1, 1978-March 23, 1982.
October 20 — Just wanted to give you a day-after account of our meeting with El Presidente Lucas.
About a five-minute drive towards Guat City, you arrive at the entrada of Finca Santo Tomas, with its high-perched pillbox guardhouse, and with the first three jeeploads of soldiers including a 50-cal. jeep-mounted machinegun to greet the guests.
The grounds were thick with classic palm trees and flowers, with hanging gardens and arbors everywhere. A large fenced-in area had a herd of deer roaming in it. As we were led to the garden, we could see the Presidente hisself, greeting the people in a most congenial manner. Our friend, Luis, spied us and rushed us up to meet him, which we did to the background of how Plenty has worked hard since the quake, and how strong Plenty is and, noticing my Nahuala shirt, Levi’s and new tennies, how “informal” we are.
Pedro talked to a sub-minister of agriculture about the soybeans. He was very interested, but thought that the taste of them would be a barrier to acceptance. We told him about tofu, milk, etc., which he had never tried, and his interest rose. When we arrived back at the garden, it was set up with chairs for the guests and a table and chairs for Lucas, the Reconstruction Comité, and other big wigs from which to address us and answer questions.
After the opening remarks, the critique put together by the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working here was read aloud by the head of the provisional committee of NGOs. It was blunt, in a way, concerning the need for support by the government for the NGOs and their projects, and concerning the need for the NGOs to be given the liberty to carry out their projects as designed without being pressured by local or central government functionaries or without being hit up for bribes by Aduanas.
El Presidente responded in a manner much more graceful than I would have thought possible for him before actually seeing him in action. He was very pleasant, very relaxed, very confident, and assured us that, “Mi casa es suya.”
As the thunderstorm loomed close and it became evident that the question/answer dialog session for the afternoon was to be conveniently rained out, we went up and invited the President to the inauguration of the Planta de Soya, to which he jovially said,
“You are going to make milk?”
“Si, Presidente, y queso y helados tambien!”
So far, we have the Soy Dairy (source of continued funding unknown), the Soy Demonstration Projects (funded for the next year), the Soy Agriculture Project (source of continued funding unknown), and the Agua Potable Project in San Fran (funded by UNICEF through its termination). That will give us enough solid basis to stay here for the time being, but we’re going to have to get on the stick to get the Three Villages Water Project, the Soy Dairy, the Soy Ag, and possibly a couple of schools funded for the coming year. That would make us, as Luis introduced us, “strong.”
So, rest assured, we let our freak flags fly at the Presidential retreat. It reminds me of the page in Volume One where, right next to a picture of Angelo and me, it says, “Wouldn’t you want to have one good suit, in case you had to talk to the President or something?” “If that was the condition, I wouldn’t talk to the President. It says that you are limited from certain things by growing long hair. Good.”
And we lived to tell about it.