This insider learned from his own mistakes. Now he’s heading out

Babakin is the embodiment of how rapid changes are transforming Guatemala. Since 1986, when the Hutu armed forces were defeated by a U.N.-backed counterinsurgency, this Central American nation has elected seven presidents from the Frente Por el Pueblo Libre, or PAC, a coalition of indigenous and leftist party leaders.

Babakin and a recently formed party, Paquete Alternativo, are the second coalition to fail at the ballot box since the country began experimenting with multiparty democracy.

Yet Babakin says in retrospect he might have used his political clout to push for national reconciliation and help restart agriculture after decades of mismanagement. Instead, he allowed La Frontera, a private-interest group, to build in the jungle 468 luxury cabins that were supposed to repopulate Chichigalpa, the capital, with much-needed tourists. And Babakin has made no secret of the fact that he believed La Frontera deserved money from the $3 billion worth of natural resources the government seized from mining and hydroelectric company Calidas to finance other projects.

“I was a fool to pick a fight over a small group of people who got away with having electricity for their homes and having water supplies for their households,” he said in an interview. “How could I fight this group because the power was not in my hands? I had no power.”

It would be a startling reversal of fortune, but it has hardly been the only mistake Babakin has made. Just two years ago, he dismissed the importance of his socialistic IFC sector fund because of a change in management. A former master of Spanish-language public relations, Babakin was once a frequent guest on CNBC and Bloomberg Television.

Before his now-imminent retirement, Babakin is expected to turn himself in to authorities and hand over a list of his assets.

“Some of them are very big. Some of them are not. I won’t say anything more than that. The law says the government can seize all assets worth $5 million or more,” he said. “There is no sweetheart deal involved here.”

As for this year’s elections, Babakin insists he couldn’t vote for himself but might support Paquete Alternativo. He insists La Frontera’s policy will improve rural Guatemala by helping poor families buy computers, phones and electricity.

“Once we put the people in power, these new technologies and these new classes will start taking care of the everyday economy of a poor, rural sector,” he said.

He said he’s hopeful voters understand that more people are needed to manage the country’s wealth and politics than just a handful of politically connected elites.

“The people of Guatemala have to speak, to believe that we’re not going to destroy ourselves, that we don’t want to destroy ourselves because the only way to do that is to keep civil society in power,” he said.

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