The Northern Triangle
Latin America is in a vicious circle of crime, poverty and corruption. High crime rates thwart economic opportunities and crime rates push people into poverty, all cumulating into corrupt leaders who use the pain for their power and self-interest. Nevertheless, nowhere is crime more prevalent than in the Northern Triangle.

The Northern Triangle is region in Central America that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has experienced the worst problems such as poor economic growth, rampant gang violence and political corruption. This three-prong nightmare has fueled an estimated 265,000 people toward the Southern U.S. Border and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. While some do attempt to find safety in Europe and elsewhere in South America, others take the risk and traverse their way to the U.S-Mexico border, where they risk entering the country illegally. Others surrender to U.S. border patrol and seek asylum. However, it is unlikely that they will receive asylum. On average, only 13% of individuals receive asylum and experience integration into the United States.

Gang Corruption

In 2017, a survey asked the people in El Salvador, “who runs the country?” About 42% of respondents said “Delincuencia/Maras.” For non-Spanish speakers, this translates to gangs, like MS-13.

These answers have visible ramifications that strike at the core of the government. Governments in the Northern Triangle are weak, and the people know this; the gangs know this. People understand the country’s power lies in gangs’ hands, not in the government’s.

For example, in 2012, the Salvadorian government agreed to sign a truce with the criminal organizations to address skyrocketing homicide rates. The profoundly unpopular legislation did lower the homicide rate but the people still had to continue to pay gangs. Tactics like homicide and racketeering are not the only ways these organizations flex their might.

Throughout the Northern Triangle, gangs rely on drug and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and theft to export their criminal enterprise well beyond the Northern Triangle. Issues in the Northern Triangle are not just an inter-state problem but also a problem for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Governance Problem

Northern Triangle nations have made some progress when it comes to corruption. But the total damage that such corruption caused is still in the billions: $13 billion to be precise.

In 2006, Guatemala successfully combated corruption when it appealed to the U.N., which established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This independent body investigates the infiltration of criminal groups within state institutions. Such an organization resulted in the conviction of hundreds of officials and reduced the homicide rate.

In El Salvador, in 2019, the country created its own independent body called Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CITIES), which could yield the same results as CICIG. Over in Honduras, the hopes of establishing such independent oversight do not seem to be gaining the same traction. After the resignation of President Lobo Sosa in 2013, an investigation into the Honduran Institute of Social Security revealed a scandal that cost the people over $200 million. It also implicated President Orlando Hernández, who admitted to unknowingly using some of the money to fund his presidential campaign.

Unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, the Honduras legislature rejected a proposal to create its own CICI. Instead, it created Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Although intended to fight corruption, it does not have the same autonomy as CICIG and CITIES. MACCIH is not autonomous and cannot investigate Honduran Public Ministry. Instead, it relies heavily on its relationship with the Attorney General and Congress, which could shield the people committing corruption. This inability to pass support for CICIH instead of settling for MACCIH might be signaling that the $200 million white-collar crime is the beginning of a giant iceberg.

A Path Forward

In Washington DC, support exists for CICIH and CITIES. Congresswoman Norma Torres and others released a statement in 2019 supporting these institutions. Reinstating the CICIG and implementing the same structure in CICIH and CITIES would stop corruption. This would allow the state to use its monopoly on violence to fight crime and allow positive economic growth. In April 2021, the State Department announced $740,740 in available funding for “competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that empower civil society to combat corruption and protect human rights.”

– Diego Romero
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of Pura Utz
Anna Andrés has always admired jewelry. When she traveled to Guatemala at the age of 10, she learned how she could create jewelry and volunteer to create change. In 2019, she and her partner Bernabela built the brand Pura Utz, which has been helping women sustain themselves in tough economic times. The impact of Pura Utz makes women not only look but also feel beautiful.

Pura Utz

The name Pura Utz means “pure good” in the Mayan language. Since the culture of Guatemala reflects strong Mayan and Spanish influences, these details go into every handmade piece Pura Utz sells. Recently, Pura Utz has collaborated with the bag manufacturer M2Malletier. As a result, the team of artisans, designers and distributors expanded to 100 women.

The details in the Pura Utz products demonstrate the talent of the artisans. The collection features glass beads in bags, handwoven sweaters, earrings and necklaces that artisans delicately shape into an assortment of fruits like strawberries, grapes and lemons. This collection also includes ornamental features, such as handmade flowers like poppies, white nun orchids and blue cornflowers.

Empowering Women at Pura Utz

Even though dramatic changes in the Guatemalan economy are stabilizing, the gap between the wealthier and impoverished citizens is not. The yearly minimum wage in Guatemala is $2,734. However, the impact of Pura Utz is significant because women’s pay with the company is four times more than what they would make working for a corporate manufacturer. The Pura Utz website even provides consumers a breakdown of where the money goes when they purchase an item: one-third of the price goes toward the salary for the working women, one-third goes toward indirect costs like shipping and packaging materials and one-third covers the margins.

Working to empower women has always been a goal for Andrés. In an open letter to supporters, she wrote that “Many of the women in our group and here in the village do have an education, but there are no jobs for them and if there is, they are being paid very poorly.” The essential goods that families need are medicine, food, clothes, electricity and housing. Guatemala is the fifth poorest country in Latin America, making some of these essentials hard to come by. Working at Pura Utz gives these women a way to sustain their lives, through flexible working hours and an empowering community environment.

The impact of Pura Utz has been expanding since helping Bernabela and her daughter Elisa—the first people the brand empowered. Bernabela was the first official team member of Pura Utz. Her current role is as the supervisor of production. She thoroughly enjoys her work and thoroughly enjoys being a part of a company that creates change for women. Bernabela’s daughter Elisa now also works at Pura Utz as an assistant while attending college.

The Future for Women in Guatemala

Poverty brings unimaginable hardships, which makes creating change in the community so important to Andrés. Andrés labeled her brand as an empowerment project because she wanted the economic prospects for women in Guatemala to have no limits.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Guatemala
Human trafficking is a large and lucrative industry, generating approximately $31.6 billion in international markets annually. Of that $31.6 billion, about $1.3 billion, or just over 4%, is dependent on trafficking from Latin America. Of all the countries within Latin America, human trafficking has impacted Guatemala especially heavily, with an overwhelming number of victims being girls between the ages of 14 and 17. In fact, Guatemala currently ranks as a Tier 2 country according to the Trafficking in Persons 2020 report. This means that it does “not yet meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking … but [is] showing great strides to do so.” Guatemala has dealt with a number of hardships in the past decade, from massive tax fraud by a former president that reignited political instability to a low-growing economy that the COVID-19 pandemic is now challenging.

Human Trafficking in Guatemala

The lack of stability, both economic and political, creates the ideal situation for human traffickers to thrive. Economically, Guatemala falls very low on the region’s GDP chart ranking 131 among 187 countries in the world in 2016 and representing one of the lowest GDPs on the continent. This economic instability makes living in Guatemala more difficult and more dangerous. According to The World Bank, even though Guatemala’s economy has increased marginally in recent years, the hope of continued newly emerging economic stability has not translated into a decrease in poverty or inequality. The lack of legitimate opportunities present in Guatemala, which is increasing because of COVID-19, is forcing many families to consider other options.

According to Polaris, an NGO devoted to preventing human trafficking and supporting victims of trafficking, the “single biggest factor contributing to trafficking vulnerability [in Latin American cases] is migration.” Additionally, for the Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and is “one of the most violent regions in the world,” migration rates are steep. The actual number of trafficking cases is hard to measure; traffickers are transporting some victims, who are not necessarily Guatemalan, through Guatemala. With the help of the 2009 anti-sex trafficking law that the Guatemalan government passed, however, the number of investigated cases is rising. Over the past four years, over 100 prosecutions successfully convicted traffickers and Guatemala is making continued efforts every year.

Solutions

Despite all of this, a number of NGOs are doing what they can to support Latin Americans and Guatemalans. Combatting human trafficking in Guatemala starts with providing struggling families with a sense of stability and hope. Four NGOs, WingsGuate, Ninos De Guatemala, Common Hope and Safe Passage are leading the way on that front; each of them is building programs to assist their impacted communities, focusing especially on their younger and more vulnerable populations. For Guatemalan families, WingsGuate is offering reproductive health courses as well as regular appointments for cervical cancer screenings; the organization has provided over 62,000 screenings since its founding. Ninos De Guatemala, Common Hope and Safe Passage all focus on providing children with resources in the form of immediate access to food items and quality education for children.

Combined, these organizations reach more than 15,000 children and families a year, providing elementary school programs to children and high school level classes to parents. Less than 45% of Guatemalan children go above elementary level education, but 90%-95% of children participating in these programs move forward in their education. For parents, the direct impact of these education programs is a tripled income and the ability to provide more resources to their children.

By providing minors with safe spaces where they can meet their most immediate needs and their families the opportunity to increase education and employment, NGOs like these help break the cycles of abuse. All of these NGOs provide the critical foundations necessary to keep families in place, lessening their chances of migration and greatly reducing their chances of becoming victims of human trafficking.

Looking Ahead

Although Guatemala has not yet been moved from Tier 2 regarding human trafficking, it is making efforts to reduce it. As the government of Guatemala continues to pursue this goal, organizations like WingsGuate, Ninos De Guatemala, Common Hope and Safe Passage are rekindling hopes for the younger generations of Guatemala.

– Grace Parker
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Guatemala: An UpdateIn Guatemala, more than 50% of the population lives below the poverty line. Families of four or more live in small one or two-room huts — if a shelter is available at all. On average, a child is abandoned every four days because families do not have the means to take care of another child. Homelessness in Guatemala often forces people to sleep under benches or in the dirt.

Street Children

Among the homeless individuals in Guatemala, 7,000 of them are children and adolescents left to survive on their own. Many street children turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, which adds to the cycle of homelessness in Guatemala. Violence directed towards street children is not uncommon. The Guatemalan police’s use of deadly violence toward these children remained unchecked until the early 2000s, but the threat of physical harm has not been yet been completely abolished.

Homelessness in Guatemala is a ripple effect that has cyclical consequences for the children of the impoverished. It is often necessary to work instead of going to school. The little income they make working often does not stretch far.

More than a quarter of the population of children in Guatemala are actively involved in child labor out of necessity. One in four children under the age of 15 is illiterate. Chronic malnutrition and hunger are a consistent part of life. Without access to proper education or nutrition, the children of the impoverished do not have the ability to move forward.

Inadequate Housing Plagues Families

Traditionally, Guatemalan culture revolves around family. Tight-knit communities are hindered by a lack of funds, nutritional food and educational opportunities. Those with shelter often live in small huts with a tin roof and dirt floors. Children, parents and grandparents often live together without running water or electricity. Diseases plague newborns and small children due to an inability to keep housing sanitary, leading to high infant death rates. Medical care is frequently nonexistent.

Cooking is done over an open fire kept inside the home, leaving the women and children breathing in smoke for hours at a time with no ventilation. Some houses are made from straw or wood, both of which are extremely flammable and pose an additional risk to families inside while food is being prepared. As a result, respiratory illness affects a large portion of the poor population and the idling soot becomes toxic for the entire family. Without running water, there is no way to properly clean the soot and, without electricity, there is no other option for families to cook food.

The Plight of the Indigenous Woman

Half of the homeless in Guatemala are indigenous women. Indigenous impoverished women not only suffer the fallout of poverty but face racism and gender-based violence.

Compared to the rest of the country, including non-indigenous Guatemalan women, indigenous women have a higher chance of having multiple unplanned children, living in poverty and being illiterate. The birth mortality rate for women of native heritage is double that of non-indigenous women, who also have a life expectancy of 13 more years compared to that of indigenous women. These women are malnourished and underpaid. The inequality trickles down to their children who face food insecurity, a lack of education and, if they are young girls, the same fear of violence and racism their mothers have endured.

Housing Aid in Guatemala

Basic human necessities are not available for many in Guatemala and haven’t been for generations. However, The Guatemala Housing Alliance is focused on providing proper shelter to families and works in tandem with other groups aiming to help education, food insecurity and sexual education for the impoverished in Guatemala.

The Guatemala Housing Alliance built 47 homes with wood-conserving stoves that eliminate the danger of open-fire cooking. It installed flooring in 138 homes that previously had dirt floors. The foundation also offers to counsel young children and has hosted workshops for women to speak openly and learn about sanitation, nutrition and their legal rights.

Even amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Guatemala Housing Alliance is still hard at work. It provided 1,340 parcels of food, and each parcel supports a family of four for two weeks. With the organization’s many goals, individuals who are homeless in Guatemala are slowly but surely being given access to a plethora of resources that can help improve their quality of life.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine Clinics in GuatemalaNew telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are providing vital resources to women and children living in remote areas with limited access to healthcare specialists. This advancement in healthcare technology increases Guatemala’s healthcare accessibility and follows a trend of a worldwide increase in telemedicine services.

Guatemala’s New Telemedicine Clinics

Guatemala’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS), in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization, launched four new telemedicine clinics in Guatemala in December 2020.

The clinics were designed to improve accessibility to doctors and specialists for citizens living in rural areas, where unstable or lengthy travel can deter patients from getting the care they need. Lack of staff is another barrier telemedicine hopes to overcome. Special attention will be given to issues of child malnutrition and maternal health.

The funding of the program was made possible through financial assistance from the Government of Sweden and the European Union. aimed at increasing healthcare access in rural areas across the world.

Guatemala’s State of Healthcare

Roughly 80% of Guatemala’s doctors are located within metropolitan areas, leaving scarce availability for those living in rural areas. Issues of nutrition and maternal healthcare are special targets for the new program due to the high rates of child malnutrition and maternal mortality in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s child malnutrition rates are some of the highest in all of Central America and disproportionately affect its indigenous communities. Throughout the country, 46.5% of children under 5 are stunted due to malnutrition.

Maternal death rates are high among women in Guatemala but the country has seen a slow and steady decline in maternal mortality over the last two decades. The most recently reported maternal death rate is 95 per 100,000 births.

Guatemala does have a promising antenatal care rate, with 86% of women receiving at least four antenatal care visits during their pregnancies. By increasing the access to doctors through telemedicine clinics, doctors can better diagnose issues arising during pregnancy and prepare for possible birth difficulties that could result in maternal death.

Guatemala’s COVID-19 rates have also impacted the ability of patients to seek healthcare. The threat of the virus makes it difficult for those traveling to seek medical treatment due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Trends in Worldwide Telemedicine

The world has seen a rise of telemedicine clinics as the pandemic creates safety concerns regarding in-person visits with doctors. Doctors are now reaching rural communities that previously had little opportunity to access specialized medicine. Telemedicine is an important advancement toward accessible healthcare in rural areas. While the telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are limited in numbers, they set an important example of how technology can be utilized to adapt during a health crisis and reach patients in inaccessible areas.

June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

SDG 1 in Guatemala
The United Nations put the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in motion in September 2015. World leaders put the SDGs into place to reach worldwide financial equality while protecting the world’s environment. To reach this globally beneficial achievement, the United Nations created 17 goals for every country, poor and rich, to focus on transforming the world into a healthier, safer and prosperous place. Guatemala has joined its fellow countries in the United Nations to try and meet the requirements for goals one to 17. Here is some information on what Sustainable Development Goal 1 is along with updates on SDG 1 in Guatemala.

About SDG 1

SDG 1 is for no poverty and to end poverty by 2030. While this may seem like an outrageous goal with limited hope of success, past records show that it is very possible. In fact, 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty in 1990, but 25 years later in 2015, that number was less than half of what it had been. In the span of 25 years, more than a billion people are not living in extreme poverty anymore.

The outline to meet SDG 1 comprises seven targets. Some of these targets include equal rights to land, access to basic services, appropriate new technology and the implementation of programs and policies to end poverty. The point of the targets is that each one helps move countries toward no poverty through new resources, programs and equal rights.

Poverty in Guatemala

Approximately 60% of Guatemalan people live in poverty and that number is even higher for indigenous people. Additionally, more than half of Guatemala’s population living in poverty and 95% of employed people are unable to make enough money to meet their family’s basic needs.

Much of Guatemala’s poor economy is due to a civil war that left its people divided. From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was in a brutal civil war involving the government’s military forces and a rebel group of indigenous Mayans. About 200,000 people lost their lives and 83% of those killed in the war were Mayan. The country eventually signed a peace accord in 1996 but the war left its people distressed. Even before the war, Mayans made up most of the rural poor and by 1996, they were in worse conditions than before.

Mayan Families

Mayan Families is an organization located in Guatemala that helps families advance through Economic Development programs. It provides opportunities like trade schools and artisan programs. The trade schools teach youth and adults new skills they can use to get jobs to have a reliable income for their families. Meanwhile, the artisan program helps women who were unable to attend school learn how to create a budget and make money from selling products involving beadwork, weaving, sewing and embroidery, playing a crucial role in reaching SDG 1 in Guatemala. In 2019, Mayan Families provided 1,500 students access to education and nutrition. Meanwhile, about 250 adults were able to gain skills and an income through the trade schools and the artisan program that Mayan Families started.

The World Bank and COVID-19

Guatemala still has significant challenges to overcome, but the U.N.’s index shows moderate progress in reaching SDG 1 of no poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to achieve SDG 1 in Guatemala because the country has been directing money towards preventing an outbreak instead. However, thanks to institutions like the World Bank, Guatemala and countries alike are receiving the financial support they need to deal with the worldwide pandemic.

The World Bank has loaned Guatemala $20 million, “to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness in the Republic of Guatemala.” Guatemala’s government has had a challenging time dealing with the pandemic due to its poor economy. This project includes indicators to show the progress in achieving this objective.

 Some of the indicator targets include 16 laboratories with COVID-19 equipment, 10 health care facilities with isolation capacity, 5,000 health staff trained in infection prevention and 22 hospitals that received equipment for COVID-19 response services. With this loan from the World Bank helping Guatemala control the coronavirus pandemic, Guatemala should be able to return its focus to the SDGs.

Guatemala is still currently off-track to reach SDG 1 according to the World Poverty Clock. However, with the loan from the World Bank and organizations like Mayan Families, Guatemala is receiving the help it needs to grow its economy and make it possible to reach SDG 1 of no poverty.

Joshua Botkin
Photo: Flickr

poverty in guatemalaThe Central American country of Guatemala, home to more than 17 million people, has an indigenous population of around 44%, primarily from the Maya ethnic group. Poverty in Guatemala tends to affect the indigenous population disproportionately. USAID estimates that 40% of indigenous people survive on less than $1.90 per day, compared to 24% of the overall population. While social and environmental problems disproportionately threaten indigenous communities, water sources are perhaps the most vitally important area under threat. Guatemala’s second-largest lake, Atitlán, sustains 15 villages. However, for many years, Lake Atitlán’s watershed has been in danger. In 2009, the Global Nature Fund named it “Threatened Lake of the Year” due to a sharp increase in pollution. Thankfully, recent advances in artificial intelligence may be able to help bring Central America’s deepest lake back from the brink. In doing so, they would also help reduce indigenous poverty in Guatemala.

Toxic Algae in Lake Atitlán

Toxic algae “blooms” have become relatively frequent in the Lake Atitlán watershed in the past decade. In 2009, Atitlán residents noticed that algal blooms had appeared in the lake. At one point it caused a shocking carpet of algae to appear over 75% of the lake’s surface.

According to the WASH Rotary Action Group, a nonprofit organization that helps indigenous lake communities access clean water and sanitation, more than 400,000 Tz’utujil, Quiche, and Kaqchikel Maya people live near Lake Atitlán. Despite the contaminants they face, they use the lake out of necessity. The algae blooms are caused by the presence of pollutants like phosphorus and E.coli from agricultural runoff and sewage. It changes the water to a green, brown or red color. More importantly, they can cause serious health problems. Fishermen and boatmen who work on the lake have reported skin rashes, while more serious long-term side effects of the bacteria include liver, kidney and brain disease. The indigenous community, whose people work overwhelmingly in the informal sector, may not be able to address these illnesses. They suffer from limited access to health care compared to non-indigenous people, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

How AI Can Save Lake Atitlán

In 2018, Africa Flores, a research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, was chosen to receive the prestigious AI for Earth Grant, sponsored by Microsoft and National Geographic. This grant awards its “changemakers” $45,000 to $200,000 to help fund their pursuit of AI solutions for the environment. Prior to winning this award, Flores had been working for nearly 10 years to help environmental authorities and NGOs save Lake Atitlán. Flores’ latest endeavor will complement these efforts by developing an AI program to allow for better prediction of toxic algae.

Although artificial intelligence that predicts toxic blooms already exists, is is not available in Guatemala, according to Flores. Although the naked eye can detect algae blooms, AI makes it simpler to understand crucial data about these ecological events. Similar technology in the U.S. provides local authorities with an advanced warning about imminent events, which allows them to pinpoint when and where blooms will occur. This helps prevent contamination of the food supply and allows scientists to learn more about how to prevent harmful algae from forming in the first place. Speaking of efforts to save Lake Atitlán, Flores said, “When we identify key variables that [lead] to algae bloom formation, there is a starting point to take action.”

A Team Effort

Other nonprofit organizations, like Amigos de Atitlán and Vivamos Mejor, have been working to save Lake Atitlán for decades. La Autoridad para el Manejo Sustentable de la Cuenca del Lago de Atitlán y su Entorno (AMSCLAE) is a governmental organization responsible for lake conservation efforts. They provided Flores’ team with valuable data. This new AI project will complement governmental and NGO efforts to help the lake and its communities survive and thrive. Widespread adherence to government plans to implement wastewater treatment is necessary to preserve the watershed. These plans will also stop it from further contributing to poverty in Guatemala.

Hope for the Future

Though the AI application and its informational website are still in development, Flores said that she and her team are working hard to develop accurate prediction models that are accessible to the public. And while many see Lake Atitlán as a lost cause, it is also a well-loved jewel of southeast Guatemala. In 2012, Dr. Sativo, M.C.H.e. and Tzutu Baktun Kan wrote a song called “Lago Negro” (“Black Lake”), written in Spanish and the Maya language Tz’utujiln. The song laments Atitlán’s compromised biodiversity, but also praises the region’s beauty. It also encourages more accountability for organizations guilty of pollution. The song, like Flores, is ultimately optimistic that the lake can recover. It ends with the mantra “Ya se va a sanar”: It will be healed.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

Maya Artisanal WeavingWhat do the 365-day calendar, the mathematical concept of “zero,” chocolate and rubber all have in common? All of these innovations are credited to the Maya, a civilization that survived for over 2,000 years in Mesoamerica. This article will feature another innovation: Maya artisanal weaving. 

At the turn of the 11th century, war disrupted the mighty rule of the Mayas. Unfortunately, after centuries of dominance, the Maya culture fell into disrepair. Furthermore, what was left of the civilization was decimated through conflict and epidemics brought by Spanish colonizers a few centuries later. In 1960, the Guatemalan Civil War began, during which the Guatemalan government attempted to exterminate the Maya culture through savage village bombings and genocidal executions. Of the 200,000 people who died amidst the war, 95% were Maya. This article discusses the modern-day history of the Maya and highlights a group of women practicing their culture and making a living with Maya artisanal weaving.

Modern Day Marginalization of the Maya

Thankfully, the Maya people have survived their tragic near-extinction. However, the Maya continue to face marginalization. Most of the poorest families in Guatemala are Maya families; the average Maya family has eight children, making necessities costly. Generally, these indigenous families remain in isolated, rural areas and receive very little government aid for medical care and quality education. Throughout Guatemala, there is a 60% drop off between the attendance rates of primary and upper secondary school. This statistic is even more drastic for Maya students. While teachers speak Spanish, most ethnic Maya children speak one of the twenty Mayan dialects. This additional obstacle contributes to these early dropouts. Unfortunately, many Maya children also drop out before the end of primary school.

Connecting Maya Artisanal Weaving with Global Markets

The Ancient Maya created a complex weaving machine. Modern-day indigenous crafts-women and men still employ this machine, working to combat endemic poverty in the region of Panajachel, Guatemala. Today, the backstrap loom, foot pedal loom and needlepoint hand-embroidery create the bold cloth which tourists and global shoppers adore. Hiptipico is a company that connects these works of art with the global market. Founded in 2012, Hiptipico, a certified B-Corps company, aims to preserve and develop Maya communities through sharing and protecting their cultural practices. The company’s namesake “tipico” comes from the Spanish word for the traditional clothing of the Maya.

Artisans Earn Fair Wages and a Global Platform

The artisan weavers that work with Hiptipico are small business owners, as well as the Quiejel and Chontala Weaving Cooperatives. Maintaining close relationships with these individuals and small cooperatives of women weavers allows Hiptipico to maintain fair wages when pricing products for the global market. 

Socially-conscious shoppers can purchase a wide variety of products from Hiptipico’s fashion line including woven greeting cards, camera straps, bags, totes, and face masks; all available in brightly colored, hand-woven patterns. Production of each Hiptipico product is incredibly time-intensive. A camera strap can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to complete. Nevertheless, purchases provide a stable income for the artisans. The high-quality merchandise of Guatemala’s indigenous artisans has brought Hiptipico attention from all over the fashion industry. For instance, Hiptipico has organized collaborations with large brands such as Free People. By earning fair, stable wages and establishing a global platform, artisans of Hiptipico are empowering themselves and celebrating their culture.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr

Examining Women’s Rights in GuatemalaA small country located within Central America, south of Mexico, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide globally. At least two women are murdered every day. Femicide is a threat against women’s rights in Guatemala, where femicide results in the killing of women for the sole reason that the person is female. Guatemalan women experience physical, psychological and economic violence. Additionally, indigenous Guatemalan women experience dramatically higher rates of poverty, illiteracy and racial discrimination.

History of Women’s Rights in Guatemala

The history of women’s rights in Guatemala plays a large part in its legacy. Much of the violence against women occurring now stems from the violence committed during the nation’s 36-year civil war, which officially ended in 1996. Violence against women was used as a counterrevolutionary tactic, where routine rape was commonplace. Today, violence against women is just as commonplace within Guatemalan society.

Yet, not much is being done to protect women and women’s rights in Guatemala. With women representing 51.2% of its 15.8 million population in 2014, women’s rights in Guatemala is especially important. As it is, 99% of femicide cases are unprosecuted, further perpetuating violence against women. Guatemala made waves in 1982 when it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, Guatemala has failed to promote this.

In 2008, Guatemala passed a law, establishing special tribunals and sentencing guidelines for violence against women. However, violence against women continues as well as flawed investigations, enabling to perpetrators and victims alike that women’s lives do not matter.

“Justice only exists in the law. Not in reality,” says Lubia Sasvin Pérez in an interview with New York Times.

Yet, there are efforts being made to protect women’s rights in Guatemala.

Initiatives Supporting Women’s Rights

Inspired by the United States’ movements like Me Too, Guatemalan women are organizing and demanding their rights. The U.N. Women Guatemala’s Program has aligned itself with the U.N. Women’s Global Strategic Plan 2014-2017, UNDAF Guatemala 2015-2019 and the legal and public policy framework for Guatemala to guarantee women’s rights.

The program aims to guarantee women’s rights by empowerment, specifically social mobilization and advocacy to ensure women achieve their full potential, in which women are able to take part in the economy through work and in decision-making processes. Another platform, USAID, aims to empower women through civic participation and improving access to economic opportunities, quality education, health services and justice.

There is still much to be done for gender equality in Guatemala. The government must come to understand women’s rights in Guatemala and must push to find the resources necessary to promote the alleviation of violence against women. There is a growing movement to provide justice and security for women in Guatemala; however, resources and support are needed to end femicide and promote women’s empowerment.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous PovertyGuatemala is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, with an indigenous population that has been especially impacted by COVID-19. Indigenous groups make up more than 40% of Guatemala’s population, which equates to more than 6.5 million people. Poverty rates average 79% among indigenous groups, with 35% suffering from food insecurity.

COVID-19 Exacerbates Indigenous Poverty in Guatemala

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the suffering of indigenous Guatemalans. Not only have indigenous families been pushed further into poverty, but reports of gender-based and intrafamily violence, murders and child pregnancies have also increased during Guatemala’s stay-at-home orders, which were intended to control the spread of COVID-19. The only exception to note is that there has been a drop in violent crime since lockdowns were imposed.

Child labor rates have increased, which is a concern since a child’s education is their channel to achieve social mobility and is key to reducing poverty. At the start of the lockdown, remote learning was promoted. However, less than 30% of Guatemala’s population has internet access. Only 21% of the population has access to a computer. In effect, COVID-19 is widening the economic gap between the indigenous population and those in urban Guatemala.

OCHA, the United Nations emergency aid coordination body, reported in April 2020 that seasonal hunger rates have worsened in eastern Guatemala due to lockdown measures. Compared to a year ago, health ministry figures point out that acute malnutrition cases in the department of Chiquimula increased by roughly 56%.

Oxfam Assists Guatemala

Oxfam, a confederation working to alleviate global poverty, has been on the ground in Guatemala, delivering food, sanitary and medical products, particularly to Guatemala’s indigenous communities.  However, Oxfam is working a little differently than in the past due to COVID-19 measures. Instead of risking the spread of the virus by sending outside people in, Oxfam is employing local Guatemalans by transferring credit to their phones and having them collect and distribute two months’ worth of necessary goods to those requiring assistance.

Insufficient Governmental Support

Guatemala’s government offers little help to relieve the effects of COVID-19 in its rural zones. In 2017, a study by the Guatemalan health ministry reported that the government spends fractions of its health budget in its rural zones compared to its wealthiest, urban cities.

The United States has increased its level of deportations under COVID-19-related regulations, leading Guatemala to trace 20% of its infections to those returnees. With the lack of governmental support and social safety nets, many poor Guatemalans are looking to flee the country.

Hopes for an Inclusive Society

Although the indigenous in Guatemala are creating their own solutions, using traditional knowledge and practices to contain COVID-19, the Guatemalan government must treat its indigenous population equally and include those who have been historically excluded by implementing strategies and operations to prevent and contain COVID-19 as well as alleviate its indigenous poverty rates overall.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr