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Thomas Carter

British Ambassador to Guatemala

30th November 2017 Guatemala City

Guatemala: the onion that makes you cry

My time as British Ambassador to Guatemala has come to an end.  After slightly more than two years representing the UK in this fascinating country, I am changing my role to become British Ambassador to Honduras.

One thing I can say about Guatemala is that I have never been bored here.  I arrived in mid-August 2015, and found a country in a state of democratic awakening as Guatemalans called for the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina to face corruption allegations.  He duly did so a couple of weeks later, and Alejandro Maldonado took over as interim President.  Then came elections, which Jimmy Morales won by a land-slide in the second round.  A few months earlier he had been seen as a complete outsider.  It was perhaps the first of a series of elections around the globe to produce surprise results – after Guatemala we saw it in the UK, the US, France and elsewhere.

And in my final weeks, Guatemala was again deep in political crisis, this time provoked by a misguided attempt to expel the CICIG anti-corruption Commissioner, Ivan Velasquez.   I say misguided because the one thing Guatemala is known for around the world (apart from its excellent coffee!) is its fight against corruption.  Guatemala is frequently held up as an example to the world of a country doing something serious to tackle corruption.  CICIG is a unique institution, and working with the Public Prosecutor’s Office under the redoubtable Thelma Aldana, it is uncovering case after case of serious corruption.   As I leave this job, I express the hope that Guatemala reunites in its commitment to the fight against corruption, which has the total support of the UK and many other donors in the international community, as well as – and crucially importantly – the vast majority of Guatemalans too.

Supporting Ivan Velasquez from CICIG

I will not bore you further with my views on the strengths and needs of this remarkable but complex country.  But if you are remotely interested, I set these out in a recent interview with Prensa Libre.

Guatemala is a tourist’s dream destination, and I have tried to maximise that experience by travelling widely around the country in my time here.  I am sometimes asked what my favourite place is.  There are lots of contenders: Antigua, Tikal, Semuc Champey, Rio Dulce.  I think my favourite place is Lake Atitlan: because it is just so beautiful.  The most moving was standing at the top of La Danta temple in El Mirador, reflecting on the extraordinary Mayan civilization which had been centred there.  But the most amazing was camping high up on the volcano of Acatenango one New Year’s Eve, watching its neighbour, Fuego, erupt into the night sky.

View  from La Danta

Fuego Volcano erupting

But the good thing is that I will continue to be based in Guatemala while I cover Honduras, and look forward to exploring more of both countries.  And the new British Ambassador to Guatemala is Carolyn Davidson, a career diplomat who for the last two years was British Ambassador to Honduras.  Carolyn and I are also husband and wife.  She and I are simply exchanging jobs.

Guatemala is like an onion.  Each time you peel away a layer thinking you have understood, there is another layer of complexity underneath.  And it does sometimes make you cry.  But I have great optimism for this wonderful country, which is full of potential.  The UK will remain a key partner to help Guatemala realise that potential.  It has been a privilege to serve as British Ambassador to Guatemala.

About Thomas Carter

Tom Carter arrived in Guatemala in August 2015. This is his second ambassadorial job, the first being as British High Commissioner to Zambia (2008 to 2012). Tom worked on the…

Tom Carter arrived in Guatemala in August 2015. This is his second ambassadorial job, the first being as British High Commissioner to Zambia (2008 to 2012). Tom worked on the London 2012 Olympic Games, and was until recently in charge of the FCO’s global consular policy, working out of London. He has spent much of his career in Europe (France, Germany and Slovakia), but also in Colombia and Thailand. Tom is married to another career diplomat, Carolyn Davidson, with whom he shared the job in Zambia and who is now British Ambassador to Honduras. They have two teenage sons.

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