The Future Begins Now

Have you ever wondered about the poverty in the Third World? Have you ever wondered where do all the developing world's problems came from? Have you ever wondered what it takes to bring a very rich country to complete ruin? I have.

I was born in Guatemala, one of the naturally richest countries this world has ever produced. Great exuberant woods, large rivers, rainforests, rich soil, a warm climate and a great location between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But my country is so economically poor that every year at least 1,000 children die of hunger. And hunger is just one of the problems. People in my country don't have access to public health, and there are no public health plans or social funds to help them.

In my country, 77 percent of the children have little or no access to public education. If they do, their schools don't have enough desks, there aren't enough teachers, and those who do teach are ill-prepared to face the conditions in schools with no water, restrooms or lunch.

How did a rich country turn itself into a ruin? It wasn't easy. It took more than 200 years to cut down the trees, to set the rainforests on fire, to waste the rich soil and turn beautiful warm weather into some kind of unpredictable mess. How did that happen? Short-term thinking.

Along the way, politicians forgot their mission and their people. They planned to balance budgets, solving nothing more than problems inherited from the ones before them. They forgot that a budget must be balanced according to three important premises: time, money and people.

They never realized that a budget is not only about time and that a budget is not only about money. But a budget is not only about people, either. They balanced budgets according only to money -- a short time period (that of a presidential term). They didn't care about people and as a result of that short-term thinking they compromised the future. They jeopardized the lives of millions of children and adults. They jeopardized the health of a country and forgot about the education of the young.

If you add greed to that short-term planning and tons of corruption, you will have a clear picture of my country. Only 5 percent of the federal budget is allocated to education. Public health allocations are about 12 percent; defense gets nearly 50 percent of the budget.

Politicians are balancing state budgets at the expense of education funds, social funds, public health funds and housing programs. They are compromising our future as the politicians in my country did. They are jeopardizing our children's education; they are jeopardizing our children's health and ours, too. They are taking away the opportunity for young and poor families to gain access to affordable housing and cutting social spending that could turn out to be the key for a decent life for thousands of people.

I understand the urge to balance the budget, and I understand that cuts must be made. But we can't jeopardize the future of our children. People can't be reduced to simple numbers. We are human beings, not numbers, and the future of a whole generation can't be expressed in such simple terms.

We have to understand that every decision we make now will have an impact on our future. We have to understand that a less-educated generation won't be prepared to face that future, that a generation with less access to health and home programs is less productive and, of course, a generation with fewer social programs is a generation with more problems. The future begins here and now, and we have to express our opinion about every reduction because every penny cut will have an impact on somebody's life.

We need to balance the budget, that's for sure. But we need long-term solutions, long-term plans, and we need to recognize people as our greatest resource, a resource that is worth every penny.

A version of this piece originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Marco Fernández (nonoymimi@yahoo.com) is an art director and part-time journalist.

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