Poverty Reduction in Guatemala
Many know Guatemala for its volcanic landscape, Mayan culture and the colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, Guatemala has regularly faced high rates of poverty and economic inequality with the effects of the COVID-19 exacerbating it. Fortunately, organizations are coming together to form sustainable poverty reduction initiatives in Guatemala which will protect the environment while creating opportunity within Guatemala. The number of people living in poverty in Guatemala is very high. In fact, according to World Bank data from 2020, 47% of individuals live in poverty. As a result, poverty reduction in Guatemala is very important and the emerging poverty reduction measures are vital to improving public health and improving quality of life.

Reducing Deforestation to Improve Economic Stability

Deforestation is a problem throughout Central America’s rainforests due to the high demand for lumber throughout the world. It has caused negative effects on the agricultural environment leading to challenges for farmers throughout Guatemala. Reaching Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while increasing job opportunities is vital to protecting agricultural commodities and decreasing poverty.

Enrique Samayoa, a farmer from El Jute, told Americas Quarterly that environmental challenges and deforestation have led to greater rainfall and flooding. Deforestation leads to this flooding, which trees and vegetation usually absorb, and causes soil erosion. This means that when a flood occurs, it washes away nutrients in the top layer of soil, creating a poor environment for agricultural workers.

Fortunately, organizations like Utz Che’ Community Forestry Association and Sustainable Harvest are leading the effort to create sustainable poverty reduction initiatives in Guatemala. Utz Che translates from the Mayan K’iche language to “Good Tree.” This organization is responsible for protecting more than 74,000 hectares of forest in the mountains of Guatemala.

It is increasing opportunities for Guatemalans by training thousands of families in better farming practices. As the forest provides livelihoods for villagers, Utz Che’ communities are planting trees to improve their lives. Poverty reduction in Guatemala is a key aspect of this Utz Che’s mission because, with a healthy environment, farmers’ livelihoods will flourish as well.

When soil erosion decreases the number of crops that farmers could produce, employees may lose their job which can lead to an increase in poverty. Sustainable Harvest and an organization called ASPROGUATE worked together in 2021 to help decrease gender inequities by focusing on women-owned and sustainably run farms.

Empowering Guatemala’s Youth

Reactiva Guate is a crowdfunding platform for young entrepreneurs which started in 2020. It creates opportunities for young people with business plans to help their communities after the pandemic greatly impacted the economy. This organization appeals to venture capital to invest in young peoples’ ideas to overcome the economic crisis and has successfully raised thousands of dollars.

According to Statista, “31.3% of the employees in Guatemala were active in the agricultural sector, 18.73% in industry and 49.98% in the service sector.” Providing alternative careers for Guatemalans that focus on decreasing the effects of environmental challenges will help improve the quality of life for people there.

A massive vaccination program began in February 2021. Since then, municipal workers have promoted vaccinations by going house to house to reach unvaccinated people. The Guatemala Ministry of Health said that 88.8% of the eligible residents of Guatemala City have received their first dose. These statistics are good news that could bring tourism back into the country. It could create more job opportunities for youth and impoverished individuals.

Revamping Transportation to Improve Accessibility

UNDP is working with Transmetro, a transportation program that began in 2008. It helps expand the bus system in Guatemala City from one bus line to seven. Improving the transit system is vital to creating accessibility to jobs within Guatemala City. Without an available mode of transportation, many individuals are unable to find work. This initiative will create greater access to jobs and education.

These sustainable poverty reduction initiatives in Guatemala are vital to improving the opportunities available to its citizens and while keeping the environment safe and sustainable. This could improve the situation in Guatemala and lead to poverty reduction in the country.

– Robert Moncayo
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Guatemala 
Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala fought in a civil war between the government of Guatemala and several leftist rebel groups, resulting in many deaths due to the destructive violence. This caused many mental health conditions and problems to arise in the people residing in the country. Unfortunately, violence and public security continue to be a concern in Guatemala, deteriorating Guatemalan’s mental health. 

What Does Mental Health Mean and Why is it Important?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines mental health as someone’s emotional, psychological and social well-being, affecting how they experience and perform in their daily lives. To add, it can help determine how people cope with stress and make choices. Mental health is significant for one’s physical health because poor mental health can lead to diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The Number of People in Guatemala that Have a Mental Health Disorder

More than 3,250,000 people in Guatemala could experience a mental health illness in their lifetime. However, unfortunately, many of them do not seek the help they need. In fact, one in four people between the ages of 18 and 65 have suffered or continue to suffer from a mental health disorder, but only 2.3% took the initiative to consult a psychiatrist to address their mental health issues. Commonly, people do not want to talk about their mental health. The reason is the lack of knowledge and the stigma around mental health in Guatemala.

Furthermore, Guatemala’s poverty rate increased from 45.6% to 47% in 2020. As a result, Guatemalans are at greater risk to develop mental health disorders because they endure more difficulties in their daily lives. The limited mental health sources available to them are insufficient to help alleviate the stress that socioeconomic disadvantages cause.

In the United States, most health care providers do not cover expenses for mental health care. Interestingly, Guatemala does not have a universal health care system, let alone dedicated mental health legislation. As a result, Guatemalans have difficulty seeking help because there is “0.54 psychiatrist available per 100,000 inhabitants,” according to American Psychological Association. Only five of them are outside of the main cities. Guatemala is a low-income country that does not have the resources to make mental health data available to the public. That is why there are not many studies or public data regarding this issue.

The Main Cause of Poor Mental Health in Guatemalan Children

A study that Rosalba Company-Cordoba and Diego Gomez-Baya conducted includes the issue of mental health of children in Guatemala. Interestingly, 50% of Guatemala’s total population is under 18 years old, making it a country with one of the youngest populations. A child’s mental health is valuable because it can have positive or negative long-lasting effects on their development.

Unfortunately, Guatemala’s high poverty rate has led to increased levels of violence because of the struggle to live in desperate conditions in the community. Exposure to violence showed significant effects on a child’s mental health, such as depression and anxiety. Although childhood poverty is prevalent in many areas of Guatemala, the quality of life showed little significance in the study. These symptoms were more common in adolescents than in children because they are more aware of their surroundings and environment. On the other hand, children exposed to low violence from urban areas with educated parents described higher qualities of life.

Violence rates have continued to increase with assaults, shootings, threats and robberies, causing many children to be afraid to go to school. Almost 60% of Guatemalan students would prefer not to go to school due to fear. Many students and teachers have received threats and experienced robberies or know someone who has been a victim of violence. Guatemala remains one of the poorest countries with high rates of violence, causing a higher risk of a child developing mental health disorders.

Living in these socioeconomic disadvantaged areas can cause children to become part of the gangs because there is no other option. The previously mentioned study showed the association between greater parental education level and higher income with lower food insecurity. However, many children do not attend higher education schooling because they have to help their families with household expenses. The number of children living in urban areas is increasing. This leads to more children in unsanitary conditions and a high cost of living. Almost all children attend primary school. However, the completion rate is 15%, which leads to low enrollment rates for secondary school.

Solutions for Mental Health in Guatemala

Many people have taken action to improve the state of mental health in Guatemala, especially for children. First, many citizens are taking to the streets to protest against the continuation of violence. The implementation of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) resulted in reductions in homicide rates. For example, there were fewer homicides per 100,000 each year. The CICIG provided Guatemala with $150 million in international support to help reform their justice system, but President Jimmy Morales thought this violated Guatemalan authority. As a result, he removed the CICIG mandate in 2019, causing a setback.

Next, people are beginning to seek support for their mental health in Guatemala due to more specialized centers offering psycho-emotional support services to the public, such as Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, for a low cost. According to American Psychological Association, there are about seven psychologists for every 100,000 people, which is a number that continues to increase.

Lastly, schools are doing their part in fighting against gang violence to make children safer in Guatemala and other countries. With support from UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, the schools created a Peace and Coexistence Committee. The idea is to promote an environment where they do not tolerate violence, as Theirworld reported. The schools are trying to lead by example and show their students that violence is not always the answer. They found over the years that there are fewer arguments between the children because they have conversions to handle any dispute.

As Guatemala continues to be a low-income country, crime rates and violence will increase, leading to mental health problems. Mental health in Guatemala will suffer the consequences of the stigma and the lack of resources. The country is working toward a better future by spreading awareness about mental health and fighting violent trends.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Unsplash

how-small-town-rotary-clubs-fight-global-poverty
The rotary sign is a common sight alongside the parks and roads that rotary clubs maintain. However, what many people may not realize is that even the smallest rotary clubs are part of an international organization that unites 1.2 million Rotarians across 35,000 clubs worldwide. These rotary clubs contribute to Rotary International’s efforts to serve communities, beginning more than 110 years ago. Small-town rotary clubs fight global poverty by supporting international service programs, such as Rotary Community Corps, Rotaract and Rotary Peace Fellows. These programs teach leadership skills and address global humanitarian issues. As a result, small-town rotary clubs’ service activities promote world peace, fight diseases, protect the environment, provide clean water, support women and children and grow developing economies. Here is how three small-town rotary clubs are fighting global poverty.

How 3 Small-Town Rotary Clubs are Fighting Global Poverty

  1. Rotary Club of Nome. Supporting its townspeople for 75 years, the Rotary Club of Nome sets a rugged example of how small-town rotary clubs fight global poverty. The club’s humanitarian activities include a 2014 collaboration with the Rotary Club of Central Tandag to provide medical supplies, hygiene supplies, clothing and food to 49 indigenous families living in a remote village in Surigao Del Sur, Philippines. The club also contributes yearly to ShelterBox, an international disaster relief charity established in 2000 that provides emergency aid to families that disaster or conflict displaced. ShelterBox aid includes emergency shelter kits containing materials such as tarps, mortar and tent pegs as well as cooking tools, solar lights and learning games for children. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Nome Rotary Club President Adam R. Lust told The Borgen Project that the club is working on a proposal to fund a month of food resources for the village of Masai Mara, Kenya. Lust hopes the project is just the beginning and that it will lead to a more extensive, sustainable program in the future.
  2. Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor. This club has 70 active community leaders committed to humanitarianism, with 15% of the club’s fundraising efforts going toward supporting international projects. The Boothbay Haborclub is a long-standing supporter of Safe Passage, a nonprofit school that creates educational opportunities for children and families who live and work at the Guatemala City dump in Guatemala. The club also helps to support Thai Daughters, an organization that “provides education, safe shelter and emotional support to girls” in Northern Thailand who are at risk of becoming sex trafficking victims. The club also supports Healthy Kids/Brighter Future, a program that Communities Without Borders runs. It provides access to education to Zambian children, with teachers who have training in first-line medical care. In addition, the Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor provides support to Partners in World Health, PolioPlus and Crutches4Africa, among other organizations.
  3. Rotary Club of Crested Butte. This club puts an emphasis on benefiting youth. The club’s international outreach activities include supplying “English and Khmer language books” to Cambodian children to improve literacy rates. Additionally, the club sent “learning toys & games to Burmese refugee centers in Mae Sot, Thailand” to improve refugee children’s education in a stimulating way.

How to Help Small-Town Rotary Clubs Fight Global Poverty

One of the ways to help small-town rotary clubs fight global poverty is to become a member. Rotary membership is “by invitation only.” An individual can receive an invitation to join a club by someone who is already a member or one can attend a meeting as a guest and fill out a membership application form. If one is unsure of which club to join, Rotary International’s membership page has a questionnaire to assist in this regard.

However, one does not have to become a Rotary member to support a local rotary club. There are many opportunities to volunteer services, from canned food drives and park maintenance to tax preparation and building houses. Rotary International is part of a searchable database that helps potential volunteers find projects within their respective locations.

Whether one becomes a member, volunteers locally or travels abroad for one of rotary’s many international service activities, it is important to remember that every humanitarian effort of a rotary club contributes to reducing global poverty and empowering the most disadvantaged people at every corner of the globe. Every individual can help small-town rotary clubs fight global poverty simply by involving themselves in their initiatives.

– Jenny Rice
Photo: Flickr

Global Dental Relief is Improving Accessibility
Dental insurance operates differently around the world. A lack of proper dental care can result in serious health issues that have lasting impacts. In developing countries, where dental care may not be as accessible, the money to afford treatment may be difficult to obtain. However, Global Dental Relief (GDR) is improving accessibility to dental care.

How Global Dental Relief is Improving Accessibility to Dental Care

Global Dental Relief started as the Himalayan Dental Relief Project. Former Director of the Colorado State Parks Laurie Mathews and dentist Andrew Holacek are the founders of the organization. After the pair traveled to Nepal together, they noticed the dental crisis present in the country. Nepal had 120 dentists for a population of nearly 24 million people. In 2001, they began their project to bring free dental care and oral hygiene education to the people of Nepal. With the knowledge that the organization could change the lives of children and adults across the nation, Mathews and Holacek dedicated themselves fully to their cause.

In 2003, Mathews and Holacek joined forces with travel adventure expert Kim Troggio. With Troggio’s expertise, the team sought to help both native families and international travelers. They also aimed to connect with the local communities they aimed to help to make their cause more personal. A large portion of the organization’s funding in 2003 came from travelers who visited impoverished nations. After seeing the lack of care and with the Global Dental Relief’s support, donations became plentiful. Since then, Global Dental Relief has made a huge impact. The organization has accumulated over 2,600 volunteers. In addition, Mathews and Holacek have provided over $35 million in donated care to more than 170,000 children.

Trips Around the World

Global Dental Relief offers trips to Appalachia, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico and Nepal. Dental hygienist Nour Shehadeh recently took a trip to Cambodia, where she treated more than 1,000 children with first-time dental care. These children had never seen a dentist before, making the experience life-changing. Shehadeh realized the immense power that a bright smile could have on a person’s confidence.

On another trip in 2018, several dentists and dental hygienists from Aspen Dental practices took a relief trip to Guatemala. During this time, they performed 1,500 dental procedures on the children of Antigua. These included 126 root planing and scaling procedures, and 596 fillings. By the end of the mission, dental professionals completed 488 fluoride varnishes and 195 extractions, showing how Global Dental Relief is improving accessibility to dental care.

How to Volunteer

Those who have participated in a trip described the experience as life-changing. Dentist Savannah Reynolds of Greenville, South Carolina explained that the experience was not only eye-opening but also intrinsically rewarding. Anyone is able to volunteer with the Global Dental Relief organization, as no prior dental experience is necessary. Global Dental Relief is also in need of non-dental volunteers to manage records, teach oral hygiene, manage the clinic flow and assist both dentists and dental hygienists. Applications to register to be a volunteer for Global Dental Relief are available on the organization’s website.

– Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous fashionFast fashion is fashion that producers make cheaply and price low to catch up with current trends. However, indigenous people are trying to change this. With their unique patterns and colorful designs, many indigenous people are using their culture and skills to allow indigenous culture to live forever, especially in the fashion world. More importantly, indigenous people are investing their skills and resources into creating sustainable fashion to combat poverty. Indigenous communities, while representing roughly 5% of the world’s population, also represent much of the world’s impoverished. Through indigenous fashion, the number of indigenous people in poverty may soon decrease.

History Behind the Pattern

Indigenous people, specifically the indigenous people of Guatemala, have a specific reason for choosing their patterns and distinctive colors. Color and design are deeply integrated into their everlasting culture and history. According to an ancient Mayan myth, the Mayan goddess Ixchel first developed this type of design, called loom weaving. People know her as the goddess of love, the moon, medicine and textile arts. Loom weavers utilize her practices to create fashionable crossbody bags. Whether they work with a company or by themselves, weavers are benefitting from the popularity of their culture’s patterns.

Weaving has henceforth become more than just a means for indigenous women to provide for their families. These women have important roles in their communities and these skills are teaching them to push for more self-reliance within themselves.

Mama Tierra

Indigenous Guatemalans are not the only ones taking advantage of this development in indigenous fashion. A nonprofit organization called Mama Tierra (which translates to “Mother Earth” in Spanish) is helping advance self-reliance in the Wayuu community through fashion. Founded in 2014, Mama Tierra assists the Wayuu community of La Guajira in several ways. It works to:

  • Make sure that women making bags (which comprise sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled bottles and pineapple leaves) receive proper pay.
  • Teach women how to make soap to keep their families healthier.
  • Provide Wayuu people with accessible solar energy and nutrition programs.
  • Promote indigenous women’s commercial activities around Colombia.

The Wayuu community greatly needs and appreciates Mama Tierra’s work. Consisting of 600,000 people, many in the Wayuu community do not have electricity or running water. Environmental changes make their land less suitable for growing food. Additionally, 50 Wayuu children younger than 5 die each month in La Guajira due to malnutrition and related causes. These families display their humanity through the bags they produce: each bag comes with a tag with a picture of the maker and their children. With the help of organizations like Mama Tierra, the Wayuu people are improving their lives and changing their futures.

Moving Forward

Indigenous women are now turning their skills and culture into something that will pay off in the long run. Apart from providing for their families, the women are making something of themselves, putting their names on something that they created. Organizations like Mama Tierra have also created trading routes for this community, displaying their artistic skills to the fashion world. By doing this, indigenous communities’ work is becoming commercialized for a broader market to see. With skillful weaving and vivid colors, the women make their own indigenous fashion and show the larger industry they are here to stay.

– Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr

genetically modified seedsMany countries in Central and South America are home to strong agricultural economies. Since the 1990s, the growing use of genetically modified seeds has challenged traditional forms of agriculture. Companies such as DuPont, Syngenta and Bater sent these seeds to Latin America. Since this introduction, Latin American agribusiness has become largely dependent on genetically modified seeds. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are home to roughly 120 million acres of genetically modified crops. Promises of greater yields and less work fuel this upsurge. To understand the effects of genetically modified seeds and how farmers are gaining support, The Borgen Project spoke to Aimee Code, the pesticide program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Prosperity

Two key factors explain the effect of genetically modified seeds on poverty. The first is dependence. Code explains that “many GMO seeds are intrinsically linked with pesticide use.” Code explains further that pesticide dependence can be dangerous as “this traps farmers in a cycle of needing the pesticides and needing these seeds… it becomes more and more expensive and uncomfortable.”

The difference between this cycle of seed use and traditional methods is stark as genetically modified seeds require the user to buy new seeds each year rather than harvesting and using older seeds from past harvests as is traditional. Farmers are unable to reuse genetically modified seeds and plants because they do not own them; the seeds belong to the company that sells them.

Not only do crops themselves threaten farmers’ prosperity, but the system of genetically modified agriculture also fuels poverty. With the introduction of genetically modified seeds came the promotion of farm consolidation, meaning that fewer farmers are necessary. As a result of this farm consolidation, around 200,000 agricultural producers in South America “have lost their livelihoods” in the last two decades.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Health

“The amount of data is woefully inadequate on the health effects experienced by these farmers out in the fields,” shares Code on the issue of health in Latin America. However, even ordinary individuals can draw conclusions just from the nature of these practices. The link between genetically modified seeds and health is best explained by the pesticide use required for these crops.

Because farmers must store pesticides in the crops’ area, the pesticides constantly endanger people living around farms. To highlight the commonality of these exposures, Code reflects on her experience working in Honduras. She says, “A young man offered me water to drink out of an old pesticide bottle.” She explains the link to poor health by concluding that “these are exposures that shouldn’t be happening.”

Along with pesticides sprayed on crops, Code explains that “the seeds are often coated with pesticides, making the seeds themselves dangerous depending on the handling practices.” Unfortunately, many farmers cannot access ample personal protective equipment to protect themselves from dangerous chemicals.

Exposure to the seeds and pesticides is grave as long-term effects can include respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In the short term, these pesticides can result in nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety and cognitive harm.

Solving the Problem

The effects of genetically modified seeds remain prominent in the lives of many Latin Americans. However, ongoing solutions aim to mitigate the effects. Code explains that the two most important ways to reduce the spread of genetically modified seeds and crops are education and regulation. As the pesticide program director for the Xerces Society, she works with farmers to implement more sustainable practices.

The Xerces Society is not the only organization working to spread awareness of the value of non-GMO crops. Civil society and social movements throughout Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala have mobilized people to protect seeds and the heritage of agricultural practices. These movements are vital for boosting confidence in traditional practices, challenging narratives created by genetically modified seed companies.

Governments from across Latin America have also stepped up to help reduce the use of these seeds. Countries such as Guatemala and Ecuador have implemented full and partial bans on genetically modified seeds. Most recently, Mexico passed legislation to ban the use of transgenic corn and phase out glyphosate by 2024. These mark positive steps as government regulation can stop the trend of high-risk genetically modified seeds that have trapped many farmers. Such legislation will protect food sovereignty and the health of farmers in Mexico.

More legislative measures and actions are required to eliminate the effects of genetically modified seeds in Latin America. However, recent years have seen immense progress in efforts to reduce the seeds’ prevalence through policy action and awareness.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

Palm plantations in GuatemalaIn the Central American nation of Guatemala, massive palm plantations have encroached upon many rural regions populated largely by indigenous people. While the palm oil companies have experienced financial success, many indigenous people have suffered under this new presence. The infringement on indigenous land rights and livelihoods calls for reform in Guatemala.

About Palm Plantations in Guatemalan Forests

Palm oil is the most widely consumed type of oil in the world and is found in 50% of all packaged products, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Palm trees grow in many tropical environments. In specific, palm plantations in Guatemala have exploded in presence and production over the past few decades. Since 2001, the amount of land covered by palm oil plantations in Guatemala has multiplied by five.

Around half of those plantations are located in the municipality of Sayaxché, which has a majority indigenous population. The plantations are taking over Guatemala’s forest area, leaving little room for the crops of subsistence farmers. Despite the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil deeming palm plantations sustainable, the activities of palm oil producers have polluted water sources used by indigenous populations. Furthermore, palm plantations are impacting people’s livelihoods as palm oil is now a dominant industry.

Impacts on Indigenous Guatemalans

Historically, indigenous people in rural Guatemala have made a living through subsistence farming and sustained themselves by consuming community-grown food. With palm oil as the dominant industry and little remaining land for farming, many subsistence farmers have to transition to working in palm plantations. Palm plantation work is arduous, requiring extremely long hours. Despite long working hours, the pay is not adequate for households to make ends meet.

Dorrian Caal, a palm oil industry worker, told Reuters that he earned 60 quetzales (about $7.80) per day working for the palm oil company Industria Chiquibul. This is below Guatemala’s minimum daily wage of 90 quetzales for the agricultural industry. Repeated complaints by both local workers and the National Council for Displaced People of Guatemala caused the company to increase wages to 91 quetzales, local farmer Jose Maria Ical told Reuters.

Given that people can no longer rely on the food and income security of their own crops, they no longer have subsistence farming to fall back on. Others in Raxruha remain unemployed due to the limited number of available job opportunities. Many people have attempted to migrate to the U.S. out of economic necessity.

Evictions and Police Violence

Some indigenous families have made claims to ancestral land and have attempted subsistence farming on land acquired by plantation companies. In October 2016, a banana plantation company evicted 80 families with the court’s support. The families resisted and the police reacted violently, shooting at indigenous farmers, burning down farmers’ homes and destroying crops. Ultimately, the families held on to their land using machetes and pesticide sprayers to defend themselves.

Indigenous Land Rights

At the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, a set of peace accords aimed to “respect indigenous community lands, resettle displaced indigenous communities, resolve land conflicts” and provide the impoverished access to land, according to analyst Doug Hertzler. However, if one considers the actions of palm plantation companies in Guatemala, it is fair to conclude that many are not fully observing these accords today. Hertzler argues that the international community provided insufficient support to uphold the promises of the accords when they underwent signing. Hertzler proposes several recommendations.

  • The Guatemalan government needs to acknowledge the land rights of indigenous people.
  • Projects “that do not have the ongoing and legitimate Free Prior and Informed Consent of
    affected indigenous peoples, as required by international law, should stop.”
  • Funding for land tenure should “prioritize community land rights” in locations where there are conflicts with companies.
  • Programs should work with indigenous communities and organizations along with the government.

Evidence from both locals and researchers suggests that palm plantations in Guatemala are harmful to the country’s indigenous communities. Altogether, the communities receive little aid. With better support and respect for indigenous rights, indigenous Guatemalans can rise out of poverty.

– Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

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
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