The Politics of Exile

Views of the Guatemalan Experience

by Robert L. Solomon

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An analysis of the phenomenon of exile in Guatemala, based on interviews with 25 formerly exiled political figures. Whether persons are coerced into exile or seek asylum depends on a combination of factors: prevailing political conditions, government policy, and personal fears. Disagreement on political issues seems to be less important than the perceptions of reality on which the government and the individual are prepared to act. Life in exile and its frustrations of separation from the homeland and surveillance by a foreign government significantly alter expatriates' political personalities. Only half of the interviewees resumed political activity when they returned to Guatemala. Exile seems to have produced extreme reactions of reinforcement and radicalization of political ideas or alienation from politics. Exile also affects the political system. It removes opposition leaders whose organizational skills are badly needed in a developing nation; it curtails possibilities for compromise; it radicalizes both the regime and the opposition. In the long run, repressive policies resulting in exile may breed violence as much as they reduce short-term threats to the regime. (See also RM-5750-ISA.)

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