Dispatches from Guatemala

The lawyer from Guatemala was recently murdered and left a videotape accusing President Colom and his wife for a hand in his death.  This set off the most significant challenge to date for his presidency.  Colom is the first ‘progressive’ President in almost fifty years and held a leaderhip position with the guerrillas during the civil war of the 80’s.  He has also been accused of corruption and money laundering. 

While studying in Xela i had many conversations with my spanish teacher over the politics. Apparently a few years ago the national bank went bankrupt and refused to pay back people’s money. Families lost their entire life savings and suicides went up tenfold. Even though it was a government bank, there was no obligation to pay the money back. Now the banks have been revived without this burden of repayment.

There were both military and police patrolling the streets. Colom (the pres.) had disbanded the military due to Guatemala’s violent past.  Crime had spiraled out of control and some cities requested to have the military back. Many rural villages took justice in their own hands wishing neither for military nor to just let the crime go. The gangs of Guatemala City had effectively taken it hostage and the police force was entrenched in corruption and collusion. The prison system was critized for holding theives and murderers for a week or so, and then letting the criminal go. In an effort to limit corruption police forces rotated cities they patrolled, so as not to develop ties to the community and give favors. My critique of this (and my teaachers as well) is that the net effect is the corruption becomes integral of the entire police force. They feel no obligation to any community which increases violence. As the police rotate in and out of Guatemala city the ties have already been made with the gangs – to the police force institution, rather than to only a few corrupt ones. The alliance becomes a national one. As Jessica tells me – even if someone wanted to be a good police officer, there is nothing they could do. They will either be killed, or they can benefit. police officers are underpaid and seen as corrupt and disrespected. Since the military was disbanded by the gov’t without re-integration programs, many become angry and joined the narco traffickers. Many are well trained with no job, or job relocation programs. Guatemala city has not invited the military back, despite the highest crime rate in central america, (possibly latin america with the exception of mexico). So in the city where i was studying, police patrolled some areas, miltary were in other’s, and private security guards were mandated in front of businesses. The crime was not very high in this town, but the gangs were reportedly trying to move in. About 30 bus drivers had been murdered in the last few months for not paying ransom to the gangs. They were killed along with their assistant. Some threats had been made to do the same in Xela and the drivers were going to go on strike.
Femicide: premeditated killing of women – as a hate crime, for simply being female. This often includes torture
Feminicide: a government policy of femicide.

Femicide was finally recognized as an official crime about ten years ago. There still have been very few prosecutions, but awareness and acknolwedgement is nonetheless being made. The woman who came to speak about women and politics believed many of these crimes in the past ten years were because of the feminist movement and women challenging the status quo. Domestic violence is extremely high as is domestic murder. 4 women were violently killed and tortured and xela in the past year. occaisonally these are political crimes. women are vastly under represented in politics and organizations in general. Because education is expensive male children are given priority to study. So lack of education and skills keep women locked into poverty and less job opportunities.

Health: very poor health system. Colom was actually making some head way on this. It is upsetting that the left is most likely going to be discredited because Colom is upholding the status quo in other areas (corruption and intimidation). pneumonia is the leading cause of death in Guatemala. Illiteracy reaches 40% in some of the rural areas. Public hospitals are available for free and open to anyone. The better hospitals are mostly located in the bigger cities. Patients must pay for their drugs though. since almost half the population lives in rural areas this makes health care in those areas very difficult. there is also a separate system for privitized care and for people with insurance. Some people with government jobs have “IGGS” which is insurance provided by an employeer, or purchased. It works very well except hardly anyone has it. The other main complaint with IGGS is that it may take up to three weeks in order to receive care. For serious illnesses this can be dangerous and inneffective.
– “pharmacists” sell pills on the bus. They tell people how to take the medicine.
– wandering caravans of missionaries to provide health care are everywhere. The lecturer on this topic was highly critical of the practice. i asked what the effect is of the high number of foreign NGO’s that received most of the aid from foreign sources – ie the obligation is to the funders not to the people who recieve treatment. She said there are some very good NGO’s who have developed very good ties to the community. But not often. most pay more attention to attracting volunteers and making it a good program for foreigners rather than the locals. Some of the doctors don’t even speak spanish. Some have lost their license and can’t practice in their own country – so they come to guatemala where there is no regulation. or, most common, they do not know the culture, the illnesses, or the causes for the problems they wish to fix. They bring medicine for a disease that does not exist, or antibiotics that do not work.

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About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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