Eyes on Guatemala

The Economist has published an article on malnutrition in Guatemala. Hunger is not new in the country, with half of the children population not eating enough Guatemala is the six-worst country in the world, but in some Maya communities children chronic malnutrition can reach 75% (the Economist says 80%). These figures are astonishing, especially because the problem is not food scarcity.

But this as well is hardly new. It was 1981 when Amartya Sen published his Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation demonstrating that hunger is mostly caused by inequality rather than scarcity. There is no lack of food in Guatemala if you have the money to buy it. In Guatemala City is taking place, as we speak, the 14th Festival Gastronómico Internacional so it seems difficult to talk about a famine or about an emergency (according to the Longman Dictionary an emergency is “an unexpected and dangerous situation that must be dealt with immediately”). The problem is the lack of a functioning state. Because a state cannot function with tax revenues estimated at just 10% of GDP.

Democracy is highly unrepresentative in Guatemala. Who should push for a better redistribution of resources has no voice. National newspapers point constantly the finger at the government (presidency, parliament, judiciary) in a impressive campaign of delegitimation. The Rosenberg tape was just part of it. I’m not defending the government, but saying that criticising it and attempting to systematically destroy its credibility are not quite the same thing. While the headlines cover crime, corruption and hunger the real battle within the country is on the tax reform. A battle that so far every government has badly lost.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Human Rights in Guatemala

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has published the Annual Report 2008 on Guatemala. And hardly could have been worse. Last year murder rate was of 48 homicides per 100.000 inhabitants, almost a world record for a country at peace. Extra-judicial executions were reported. The number of people who died in custody increased. Irregular militas were responsible for episodes of the so-called “social cleaning” where victims were tortured and finally executed. Over the year 722 women where killed. 56 people were lynched. According to the High Commissioner the Government should

refine the legislative framework for the protection of human rights (…);
improve criminal investigations carried out by the National Civilian Police, on the basis of an appropriate organizational structure, trained personnel, an adequate territorial deployment, and the availability of technical and scientific resources (…);
strengthen areas of civil jurisdiction, in order to prevent civil conflicts becoming criminal matters (…);
adopt special measures to combat discrimination in all areas, and in particular to overcome the conditions of inequality which impede indigenous peoples’ access to economic, social andcultural rights (…);
strengthen measures to increase the understanding and application of the new Law on Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women (…);
promote a comprehensive tax reform, enabling an expansion of fiscal resources and an increase in tax collection.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Wars in the Backyard

The National Security Archive has just declassified eleven documents on the extra judicial arrests conducted 25 years ago by the government of Guatemala. It appears that the US embassy clearly knew that the security forces were involved in the kidnappings. In a Department of State secret report, dated March 1986, we can read:

While criminal activity accounts for a small percentage of the cases, and from time to time individuals “disappear” to go elsewhere, the security forces and rightist paramilitary groups are responsible for most kidnapping. Insurgent groups do not normally use kidnapping as a political tactic, although they did resort to kidnapping for ransom in their formative years.
First used systematically by security forces against Communist Party and members of the moderate left beginning in 1966, the practice of kidnapping became institutionalized over time. Some 6500 persons have been kidnapping or disappeared since 1977, far short of the 38,000 claimed by critics of the previous Guatemalan governments. The average number of monthly kidnapping peaked in 1984 under regime of General Mejia. At first security forces utilized kidnappings to intimidate the left and convince potential guerrilla supporters to remain neutral. Kidnapping of rural social workers, medical personnel, and campesinos became common between 1979-83. Often innocent victims were accused of being insurgents by military commissioners, other village leaders or an individual’s personal enemies or business competitors. (…) In the cities, out of frustration from the judiciary’s unwillingness to convict and sentence insurgents, and convinced that kidnapping of suspected insurgents and their relatives would lead to a quick destruction of the guerrilla urban networks, the security forces began to systematically kidnap anyone suspected of insurgent connections. This tactic was successful. Most of the insurgent infrastructure in Guatemala City was eliminated by 1984.

The Guatemalan Civil War ended formally in 1996. But violence did not. According to national newspaper Siglo XXI, in the last fourteen months, an average of 17.6 persons have been killed every day. How many during the 36 years of civil war? 15.2.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Crisis from the South /3

The Inter-American Development Bank publishes today on its web-site previsions for remittance flows in 2009 to Latin America: they will go down for the first time since 2000. And different countries are experiencing different situation. The Andean region is effected worse by the decline of the euro whereas the Mesoamerica region sees a strong dollar partially counterbalance the decrease in money flow.

According to the Banco de Guatemala, in the first two month of 2009 remittances to the country have diminished by 9.59% comparing with same period of 2008.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Truth, finally. Maybe

Guatemalan newspaper La Hora affirms that, for the first time, the  government will hand to the ministerio público (attorney general) the military archives regarding cases of genocide occurred during the civil war (1960-1996). The decision was taken after the constitutional court notification to president Álvaro Colom.  In particular, the military files concern the campaign plans named “Victoria 82”, “Firmeza 83” and the operational plans named “Ixil” (1982) and “Sofía” (July 15, 1982).

So far, it is not known when this will happen. But the Secretary of peace, Orlando Blanco, confirmed that this will happened.

The archives will effect the trial for violation of human rights and genocide, began in 2000, against the former presidents of Guatemala Lucas García and Ríos Montt.

According to the Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, during the Guatemala civil war (conflicto armado interno) 200,000 people had been killed . Most of them (93%) were victims of state security forces and most of them (83%) were Maya. Between 500,000 and 1.5 million people were displaced.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Crisis from the South

According to Banco de Guatemala, for the first time since 1999, in January 2009 remittances from abroad decreased by 7.75% compared to the same month in 2008. In Guatemala remittance  flows represent 11.89% of GDP. According to the World Bank remittances can represent more than 50% of rurally-based family income and for the International Organization for Migration 30.4% of the population receives money from abroad.

Causes? Probably economic crisis and deportation of  illegal immigrants from the US.

Something is certain: remittances are a strong factor in reducing poverty in Guatemala. If flows continue to decrease is more than probable that poverty will rise in a country where, according to the government, 45,6% of children are already underweight.

Monday, 16 February 2009


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