There’s not a cocktail bar in Central London that doesn’t stock Ron Zacapa, an English Starbucks that isn’t preparing to launch a “Guatemala cappuccino” or a high-end British supermarket that doesn’t sell petit-pois straight from the country’s Highlands, according to Guatemalan Embassy staff in the U.K.
Outside the U.S., Guatemala’s biggest export market is Great Britain, and trade between the two countries has been steadily increasing over the past few years. With a new free trade agreement between the European Union and Central America going into effect later this year, commerce between the nations is set to grow even further. It now seems as though the Guatemalan Embassy in London doesn’t exist so much for the 300 chapines who live there as it does for the two countries’ exchange of ideas and trade.
Asisclo Valladares has been the Guatemalan Ambassador to the U.K. for nearly three years.
“In 2010 we didn’t have any economic investment sections, but I established that,” says Valladares, who ran for president twice before taking up this position.
“Trade is good in both directions, so we work closely with the U.K. Embassy in Guatemala City, which wasn’t done before.”
Valladares and his team recently chaperoned a group of British businessmen to Guatemala, as part of Explore Guatemala, and gave them an insight into the commercial opportunities that exist within the country.
Investment missions like these led the health insurance giant BUPA to begin operating in Guatemala and Pollo Campero to set up shop in the U.K.
However, it’s not just about new business. Valladares is also the Guatemalan representative of coffee, sugar, oil and cocoa to the U.K.; he serves as the Guatemalan Ambassador to a host of African countries; and he works closely with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina to gain support for his ideas in Europe.
“I used to be the Attorney General in Guatemala and fought against drug traffickers. It was risky, but it’s useless if you take one drug cartel out of play, as another will just fill its shoes. This is why I feel so strongly about Pérez Molina’s drug (legalization) policy. We need new methods.”
Shortly after serving as the Attorney General, Valladares received his first diplomatic posting, following in the footsteps of his father, who occupied the same position for 18 years.
“I was Ambassador to the Vatican twice and I loved it—it was incredible,” he says. “The first time was with Pope John Paul II and the second was with Pope Benedict. I met John Paul II many times and always got the same impression—he was a saint. But Benedict is very human and was easier to talk with.”
Sitting in the Ambassador’s residence in London there are nods to his homeland on every wall.
“I love everywhere in Guatemala. Many countries have more than we have, but nowhere has as much as we do in such a small space. I measure my life before and after visiting Tikal. I went when I was 14 and I felt so small in the universe—it’s so special the emotions you get.”
Pictures of La Antigua Guatemala and Lake Atitlán compete for space alongside photographs of Valladares with various Presidents, Popes and members of the British Royal family.
“When my father met the Queen (Elizabeth II) I remember him writing us a letter saying that she was a charming young lady. So when I met her I said: ‘My father said you were a charming young lady and so you are.’ ”
When asked if there’s anything left that he still wants to accomplish or anyone whom he still wants to meet, the Ambassador describes a meeting with the Guatemalan Nobel Prizewinning poet, Miguel Ángel Asturias.
“I met him in Paris and could tell he missed Guatemala. We spoke of Christmas: the flavours, the colours, el nacimiento and he became very contemplative. I asked him if he was nostalgic and he replied: ‘Sometimes I am.’ Then he stopped and said: ‘I’m not nostalgic about the past; I’m nostalgic about the future. The things I’m going to miss, what people will invent.’ And now I’m becoming the same,” smiles Valladares.