A Brief History of Indigenous Poverty in GuatemalaGuatemala has the largest population number in Central America. Over 40% of its population identifies themselves as indigenous. As a result of colonial rule and violence, racism is another social issue. Consequently, there is a high number of indigenous poverty in Guatemala. Around 21% of Guatemala’s indigenous population sits in extreme poverty, compared to 7.9% of non-indigenous populations. More specifically, predominantly Mayan communities face poverty rates as high as 80% and extreme poverty rates of 40%.

Violence and Mistreatment Against Indigenous Communities

Guatemalan indigenous communities face many forms of violence. The mistreatment and mass violence of indigenous people can be traced back as far as a colonial rule. Additionally, practices of colonialism displaced many people native to Guatemala. Colonialism removed them from their land and orchestrating a mass genocide. Spanish rulers created Encomiendas, which supposedly served to educate the natives. In reality, these Encomiendas served as mechanisms of slavery in the form of work camps.

Guatemala’s Civil War

This pattern of violence continued in a civil war that still defines the country and its poverty. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the indigenous still do not have their land back. The United Fruit Company, a US-owned company, controlled 42% of all territory in Guatemala and all modes of communication, like telephones and railroads. However, it was exempt from paying any taxes. Moreover, In 1944, the Guatemalans mobilized to create change as the fruit company paid no taxes to support public schools or hospitals. They removed a dictator, democratically elected Dr. Juan Jose Arévalo. The Guatemalans created a constitution in the image of that of the United States.

Despite this, the United States launched a coup in 1954. This consequently triggers an extremely bloody civil war. The coup succeeded. In addition, the United States replaced Arévalo with an authoritarian government led by Carlos Castillo Armas in 1954. Because democracy was not restored, Guatemala faced a series of small coups and civil conflicts. Additionally, the 36-year civil war that only came to a close in 1996.


The weight of this war fell almost entirely on indigenous populations. The United Nations has found that this war caused a second genocide against indigenous populations. According to a 1999 report written by the U.N., this 36-year long war took 200,000 lives. Around 83% of those lives were indigenous. This genocide, like the last one, created power dynamics that allowed for the systemic rape and mass torture of young indigenous women, largely at the hands of U.S.-backed forces. In addition, this violence was state-sponsored, as armies would force indigenous women into domestic and sexual slavery. However, there is yet hope. The perpetrators of this violent crime receive punishment. Two military officers have been charged with crimes against humanity for their participation in this genocide and 18 women have received reparations.

Contention Over Land and Water

There is much contention over land and water in Latin America, but the burden of this dispute seems to have fallen on indigenous communities. Like the United Fruit Company, many businesses continue to use the land occupied indigenous people without paying for it directly or in taxes. As a result, this has only exacerbated indigenous poverty in Guatemala. Moreover, this is in violation of a U.N. mandated ILO Convention 169. This gives these communities a voice in these matters as a form of reparations for the multiple genocides. Additionally, the violation of justice, patterns of violence and rampant racism created brutal economic and social conditions for indigenous peoples of Guatemala.

A Company That Helps Indigenous Women

To address the employment discrepancies in Guatemala, Gracia Inc. is providing job opportunities and vocational training for indigenous women. This is to help women raise themselves out of poverty. Additionally, Gracia Inc. trains and houses 110 women at a time. The company teaches women how to create jewelry and the business models of this jewelry company itself. In addition, this company provides a classroom to educate women in a lecture-based style, hone their craft and work towards opening their own businesses. This classroom also serves as a forum for women to voice their concerns about hostility towards indigenous communities.

Addressing the issue of indigenous poverty in Guatemala is important. After two genocides, countless crimes against humanity, systematic racism and breaches in various treaties, this indigenous population is in ruins. Indigenous communities deserve love, care and respect from global communities. One of the way to help solve this problem is to directly donate to these communities. As a result, private companies and the government itself may begin to rebuild from this civil war.

Bisma Punjani

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in GuatemalaGuatemala is a Central American country that borders Mexico and Belize to the North, and Honduras and El Salvador to the Southeast. With a population of 17.2 million as of 2018, Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America. Of the country’s total population, an estimated 45-60% is indigenous, and approximately 59% of the total population lives in poverty. Although most demographics in the country face poverty, rural indigenous communities feel the effects most acutely.

Second-Highest Level of Poverty in the Americas

Poverty in Guatemala is disproportionately high for the country with the largest economy in Central America; while Guatemala had a Gross Domestic Product of $75.62 billion in 2017, it also has the second-highest level of poverty in the Americas. Since 2006, poverty has grown. Approximately 2 million people slid below the poverty line (measured by an income of less than U.S. $5 per day) from 2006-2014. During the same window of time, around half a million slipped into extreme poverty (U.S.$1.90 or less per day). According to a national survey, the poverty rate among indigenous, predominantly rural communities is as high as 79%.

Poor Distribution of Resources

Extreme socioeconomic and geographic inequality largely characterizes the nature of poverty in Guatemala. As many as eight in 10 citizens living in rural municipalities live in poverty. One study found, from a sample of six other Latin American countries, that Guatemala had the poorest distribution of health and educational resources. Access to health resources and quality education is key in enhancing social mobility and bringing individuals out of poverty. Poor distribution of these resources in rural areas fortifies the regional cycle of poverty between contributing to lower life expectancy and limiting opportunities for education.

Additionally, chronic malnutrition debilitates poor Guatemalan communities; the level of malnutrition in Guatemalan children—47% as of 2019—is the highest of all the Latin American countries, and among the highest globally. This aggravates the cycle of poverty as well. Malnutrition burdens the already-limited healthcare system and stunts the local economic potential by reducing the physical and intellectual capability of youth. While many families traditionally subsist on agriculture to feed themselves, chronic drought has left many of these communities fully reliant on overseas remittances for survival.

Effects of the Coronavirus

As is the case in many countries, experts anticipate that poverty in Guatemala will increase as a result of COVID-19. In addition to the uneven allocation of health resources, the country’s poor have also suffered under strict lockdown rules, job loss and an enormous reduction in overseas remittances. The country reported a 17.2% loss in remittances corresponding with the rising unemployment rate in the U.S. These remittances not only make up approximately 12% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product but directly impact those families that rely on that form of income to feed themselves.

Additionally, stay-at-home orders have effectively collapsed the country’s informal economy, in which 70% of Guatemalans participate. Unregulated by the government, the informal economy comes with no formal protections or benefits in the event of labor loss. Similarly, official reports of unemployment in Guatemala are disproportionately skewed, as only 30% of Guatemalans work in the formal sector; this allows for employment statistics to disproportionately represent the number of individuals at risk of slipping into poverty.

NGOs Working to Help

Both domestic and international NGOs have turned their attention to meeting the challenges of poverty; these include issues both introduced and aggravated, respectively, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The humanitarian group Plan International presently tracks food prices via telephone surveys throughout Guatemala, identifying which regions are most food insecure.

The locally-based Konojel Community Centre is working to adapt their boots-on-the-ground services, suspending traditional programs aimed at reducing child malnutrition in order to distribute food packages to the community’s most vulnerable families. Simultaneously, Konojel Community Centre’s director is currently pushing the Guatemalan government to apply for loans from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to lessen the blow of economic crisis in vulnerable areas.

This comes at a time that Konojel Community Centre, like many NGOs at present, is hard-pressed for funding with the sharp decline of the global economy. Despite the circumstances, these NGOs are working to prevent as much loss of progress on malnutrition and poverty in Guatemala as possible.

Alexandra Black
Photo: Flickr

Women-Owned BusinessesNonprofit organization Mary’s Pence is working towards a world of empowered women making changes in their communities. To get there, Mary’s Pence partners with grassroots organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Central America to provide funding and development programs for women-owned businesses.

Executive director Katherine Wojtan believes Mary’s Pence is different from other nonprofits because the organization not only cares for the individual women, but also oversees the sustainment of their small businesses. Mary’s Pence also values the idea of “accompaniment,” explained by Wojtan as utilizing the abilities of everyone to accomplish a long-term shared vision. This concept is applied to the organization’s execution of both the programs in the states and in Central America, focusing on improving the whole rather than the individual.


The program in Central America called ESPERA, or Economical Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All, was created almost 12 years ago. “Espera” is the Spanish word for hope, a fitting name for the life-changing program working with women in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“This is very intentional, it is not about making individual women rich, but about ensuring all women have access to resources and skills to make their way in the world and earn what they need for a good life,” Wojtan said.

ESPERA aids women who were victims of domestic or gang violence or are single mothers struggling to make ends meet. By giving grants to grassroots organizations in struggling communities, Mary’s Pence creates community-lending pools which women can take loans from to start local women-owned businesses that generate income. To ensure success, the staff of Mary’s Pence teach the community loan management and help elect leaders to track the lending.

Gilda Larios, ESPERA team lead, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and worked with Central American refugees before starting work with Mary’s Pence. ESPERA funding gives back to the whole community, not just the women receiving aid. Instead of focusing on building credit, women realize the importance of circulating money and products.

“Their confidence grew – first they asked for a very small loan, and over time they asked for larger loans and grew their businesses,” Larios told The Borgen Project. “With their strength, they are role models for new leadership in the community.”


ESPERA has helped develop many small women-owned businesses that create jobs for their communities and generate income for struggling women. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put many of these businesses at risk as workers feared for their lives, but the ESPERA team responded fast, changing their focus from long-term development to responding immediately to the needs of the women.

As some women panicked about their businesses and the effects of the pandemic, the ESPERA team responded with a 12-week emotional wellness series, delivered via WhatsApp, and supported stores so they could keep reasonable prices for the communities. For women in the midst of paying back loans to the community-lending pool, their status is put on hold until they have the income to continue their payment.

Despite the support network ESPERA provides, the pandemic revealed some gaps in the system. It was challenging to ensure the safety of women experiencing domestic violence. The lack of access to phones and the internet made communication between communities and ESPERA leaders challenging. However, this time of crisis also brought the communities closer and proved the importance of working together through local businesses.

In her interview with The Borgen Project, Larios told of a woman named Aminta, who is in the ESPERA program in San Salvador, El Salvador. She transitioned from working in a “maquila,” or factory, to starting her own business sewing uniforms for local sports teams. During COVID-19, she also began sewing masks to help keep her community healthy. Success stories of women-owned businesses like this one propel communities into further financial security and empower other women to do the same.

Confidence and Creating Futures

Above all, ESPERA and Mary’s Pence hope to give women confidence in their own abilities to create the future they want for themselves and for their families. For Larios, the most rewarding part of working with ESPERA women is the “feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them embrace their possibilities and capacities that before they thought they didn’t have.”

Through ESPERA and their role in the creation of women-owned businesses, Mary’s Pence continues to change women’s lives by showing them the power they already had within themselves.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Google Images

Human Rights in Central AmericaCentral America, which includes Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, has a history of human rights violations. The three northern countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) are considered the most dangerous countries in the region for vulnerable communities. The United Nations defines human rights as rights thought to be inherent no matter any status. Violations of these rights include violence, discrimination and injustices.

Vulnerable Communities

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community, women and children are the most prone to violence and discrimination in Central America. Violence against LGBTQ people is severe and spread far throughout the region. In northern Central America between 2014 to 2019, 243 LGBTQ people were murdered.

The northern region is also the most dangerous for women. This is because El Salvador has the highest rate of gender-motivated killing in the world. Guatemala follows closely behind at third-highest while Honduras is sixth. In 2017, 2,559 cases of gender-motivated murders were reported in Latin America and the Caribbean with Central American nations making up a majority of the countries with the highest risk for women. El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua are included within the top 10.

Another highly vulnerable group is children. Children suffer from gangs, sexual violence and poverty. Many are forced to flee from Central America to the United States in the hopes of living safer lives, but this journey is often dangerous due to the drug-trafficking gangs. In addition to violence, poverty is also a significant driving force for children and families fleeing Central America. More than two-thirds of children live in poverty throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In El Salvador alone, 86.8 percent of children live under the poverty line. However, families who do make it to the U.S. border are detained and often separated.

Human Rights Defenders

There is constant work to expand existing organizations and encourage a public environment that allows human rights defenders, local civil society groups and individuals to carry out their vital work without fear of violence. The people on the ground doing research, providing aid and services and protesting injustice are the foundation of the cause.

OutRight Action International, founded in 1990, works to improve the lives and protect LGBTQ people in Central America. In Guatemala, OutRight hosted a security training for LGBTQ activists in 2016. They document abuse and work towards creating a more tolerant society.

Journalists and activists that carry out such work are often detained or arrested for speaking out against the violation of human rights. 87 human rights activists were murdered or died in detention in Central America in 2016. The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) recognizes the importance of activists in the fight for human rights and has launched many campaigns advocating for laws protecting human rights defenders. In many cases, the violence and crime against activists are ignored by law officials and in response, human rights organizations have implemented devices, such as contact buttons and emergency plans, to keep people from being punished for speaking out.

Furthermore, the Pan American Development Foundation, based in Washington D.C., is currently 4 years into a 5-year plan to strengthen human rights in Central America. The project began in 2016 and has provided help to at-risk communities and has established protection systems for civil society groups and human rights defenders.

Moving Forward

Human rights in Central America are challenged every day. These rights are often abused due to the ineffectiveness of government intervention efforts and gang-related violence. Central America has a long way to go in providing a safe and enriching society for its citizens, but with the continued efforts of activists and community groups, there is a possibility for improved safety and livelihoods.

Taylor Pittman

Photo: Flickr

Farming Methods in Central America
Many Central American countries suffer from droughts and forest fires due to hot temperatures and inconsistent rainfall. Without adequate water, agricultural workers are unable to consistently produce adequate goods each year. They are often forced to rely on crops that don’t need as much water but are less nutrient-rich, such as corn.

Planting crops during the dry season, between December and April, is extremely difficult and even the rainy season between May and July presents a challenge, given inconsistent rainfall patterns. In addition, staple crops like corn do not yield the profits of higher-value crops such as squash, beans, zucchini and watermelon, which not only increase income and quality of life in the region but also improve the diets of farmers, families and locals. Fortunately, a number of local and international organizations are implementing programs aimed at improving farming methods in Central America.


The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been combating unreliable, inconsistent weather patterns via a Honduras-based rainwater harvest program, aptly named Harvest. This consists of a reservoir that gathers rainfall in the winter, providing farmers with a backup water supply during dry months. Crops are watered through a low-pressure drip irrigation system, enabling farmers to plant and harvest three times a year instead of only once.

As a result, farmers have been able to grow and expand their repertoire of crops. Many other organizations have been involved in this initiative, including Development Innovation Ventures, Global Communities, SAG (Secretaría de Agricultura y Ganadería) and local governments.


AGRI is a similar Honduras-based project under development that utilizes small drip irrigation systems spanning roughly 10 hectares. It works by locating surface-water sources that can be used for rainwater harvesting and uses water pipes to share water sources between various groups of farmers.

AGRI is also generating deforestation analyses using its terrain Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and other spatial analysis frameworks that analyze drainage basins and upstream areas. Its remote sensors can collect and predict weather patterns while enabling digital soil mapping and hydrologic analysis to estimate water runoff and water balance.

While AGRI hasn’t been formally introduced to Honduras, invest-H (Investment in Honduras) managers and the government are working to expedite its implementation. AGRI is supported by the U.S. initiative Feed the Future as well as Zamorano University, a Honduran university that is currently researching and refining the field validation of AGRI in preparation for its official launch.


MásRiego, meaning “more irrigation” in Spanish, is a Guatemala-based initiative that works to increase water supplies through drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, reduced tillage, mulch use and diverse crop rotation. The project team provides training and partnerships to Guatemalan farmers to improve farming methods while offering access to microcredit financing and irrigation equipment. As rainfall patterns become more unpredictable, new methods of farming such as conservation and rainwater harvesting must be introduced. Conservation improves moisture retention, soil structure and soil health, while also reducing weeds, manual watering and preparation time.

MásRiego’s goal is to connect 9,000 rural Guatemalan households through these smarter farming methods. They also plan to use local schools to teach students about these new methods as well as inform them about agricultural job opportunities. As a result of unpredictable rainfall patterns and increased competition, farmers entering the field must be educated on the tools needed for success. MásRiego also focuses on helping women and youth grow high-value crops on smaller plots of land to increase the incomes of Guatemalan farmers and the nation as a whole. The program is supported by the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

Moving Forward

Using the latest farming methods, these organizations are helping to support Central American farmers’ incomes and improve quality of life. The diets of both the farmers and local communities are already being enriched as improved farming and irrigation methods allow for a broader variety of crops to be planted. The Harvest program has also found that more young people are choosing to remain in their countries as new and improved methods make farming a viable lifestyle.

With the technology that AGRI plans to introduce and the conservation methods that MásRiego is implementing, farming will become less of a financial and physical burden. These organizations and others like them will continue to improve farming methods in Central America, with an eye toward expanding into other arid regions in the future.

Nyssa Jordan

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in GuatemalaGuatemala spent close to three centuries under Spanish rule before gaining independence in 1821, according to the CIA. The latter half of the 20th century saw the small nation experience various military and civilian governments and a guerrilla war that lasted for 36 years and killed more than 200,000 people. The government signed a peace treaty in 1996 but Guatemala still has problems to solve.

CNN reported in 2012 that gender-based violence is highly prevalent in Guatemala and the country ranked third in femicide worldwide. There are two women killed each day in the small country making women’s empowerment in Guatemala an important issue.

During Guatemala’s civil war there was a great deal of violence committed against women. This left a legacy of violence that still plagues the country today. The military and paramilitary personnel that committed these crimes with impunity were integrated back into society. Many of these men remain in positions of power and have not changed their thoughts about women, because of this women’s empowerment in Guatemala is an issue that must be discussed.

Just over 20 years after the end of the civil war violent crime is higher than it was during the conflict. Although the homicide rate is high, the UN estimates that only two percent of cases go to court. Women are especially prone to violence because of gender bias. Many women are brutally killed because of their gender. The methods used include rape, torture and mutilation which were also common during the civil war. This culture of gender-based violence makes women’s empowerment in Guatemala difficult to accomplish.

Drug cartels from Mexico and other criminal groups help contribute to the excessive violence that plagues Guatemala which leaves fewer recourses for authorities to investigate femicides. Many cases go unreported because women fear retaliation which further hampers women’s empowerment in Guatemala.

The Central American nation is deeply rooted in machismo culture which is one of the greatest obstacles for women’s empowerment in Guatemala. Around 80 percent of men believe that women need permission to leave their home and 70 percent of women believe the same. Ideas like this make life difficult for women in Guatemala.

Despite the problems women face in Guatemala, there are signs of progress. According to PCI Global, the Asociación para el Desarollo Sostenible de la Juventud (ADESJU) was created by a group of young Guatemalans in 2004. In 2014, ADESJU began to apply the Women Empowered Initiative (WE) with the help of PCI. This has helped around 2000 women become economically and politically empowered. ADESJU has organized 94 WE groups with 1839 participants. WE wants to encourage women to become economically independent and active members of their communities. Women’s empowerment in Guatemala faces many obstacles but organizations like these are doing what they can to advance it.

– Fernando Vazquez

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Guatemala
Guatemala is known for its government’s immense crimes against humanity during the 20th century. While there have been efforts to improve human rights in Guatemala, the country had not seen much progress until very recently.

The nation has been plagued by powerful criminal organizations and gangs for many years. They commit violence and extortion, terrorizing local communities and instilling fear in the citizens, and ultimately pushing many Guatemalans to emigrate from the country. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is still incredibly corrupt, making it difficult for human rights activists to do work on the ground because they face the threat of violence and intimidation from corrupt government officials and local criminal organizations.

In 2013, retired military general Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. General Montt led a military government from 1982-1983 and carried out heinous massacres of unarmed civilians. This conviction would have been a huge step for Guatemala, but the sentence was overturned by the Constitutional Court and Montt was set free. This was a major failure in the eyes of human rights activists because it demonstrated that the government would continue to pardon those in power even when they have committed a crime.

That being said, thanks to the aid of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), there have been a few successful prosecutions in cases of violent crime and corruption. In May 2014, General Montt was re-tried and was once again convicted. This time, however, the conviction remained in place, signaling a win for the Guatemalan people.

In February 2017, the Guatemalan courts made a conviction regarding crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence and sexual slavery. This was the first prosecuted case of sexual violence that related to the country’s 36-year internal conflict. It has been incredibly difficult to get convictions for the crimes and massacres committed during the conflict because of the level of corruption in the nation, but this was a huge step towards justice.

Through continued assistance from CICIG and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Guatemala is on the right track to being a safe country for its citizens. Continued foreign aid can help reduce violence and poverty and increase economic opportunities and good governance. There is a lot of work to do regarding corruption in the government and atoning for past crimes against humanity, but the future for human rights in Guatemala is looking fairly bright.

Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Google

Librarians Without BordersFounded in February 2005, Librarians Without Borders (LWB) addresses the vast information resource inequity existing between different regions of the world. The group’s vision is to build sustainable libraries and support the librarians who keep these institutions running.

LWB is a nonprofit organization that endeavors to improve access to information resources notwithstanding language, geopolitics or religion by forming connections with area industries in developing regions.

Information Freedom and Literacy
Information literacy connects a library and its users. To that end, the Academy be designed to help users navigate the resources, services, and space, Librarians Without Boundaries it is incumbent upon the LWB to enhance information literacy skills in the region by devising curricula for trainees and by providing practical materials for educators for student application. LWB is creating a framework and presenting practical ideas, beyond basic literacy that is embedded in the Asturias curriculum.

Librarians serve an essential position as champions of intellectual freedom. They must grant equitable means to approach information. Access to information is vital in supporting learning and literacy, reducing poverty, empowering citizens, and building healthy, active communities.
Open access is critical in supporting education and literacy, reducing poverty, empowering citizens, and building healthy, vibrant communities. Librarians Without Boundaries does not draw cultural or linguistic boundaries; LWB embraces diversity; The organization will work with our partners in their cultural context and their languages.

One of LWB’s partners in Guatemala is the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy.

Through an association formed in 2009, LWB and Asturias act in tandem to promote literacy and learning by focusing on development and operation of a school and community library. By creating a community library in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Every Spring since 2010, Librarians Without Boundaries travels to the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to accomplish remote work on the ground, to discuss emerging needs with LWB partners, and to reconnect with the students and school staff.

Lending of Library Materials
LWB is working to implement a library loan system for local students and staff. The program is a significant milestone for the Academy since many students do not have books at home. By implementing specialized software to track and guide to the borrowing of materials a uniform library cataloging model is instituted and training library staff to use and maintain the library loan systems and equipment.

Implementing a borrowing system extends access to information resources not only for students and families but also the community-at-large. Increased borrowing privileges create opportunities for students and their families to engage in reading activities at home and during after school hours. LWB fosters strong literacy skills and a love of books in the community.

The 2017 Service Trip
The most recent program occurred this year from April 22 to May 12. LWB members performed such duties as:

  • Cataloging, processing, and supplementing the library’s collection with new materials.
  • Programming targets all students and levels through multi-day library events.
  • Professional development workshops for teachers promoting library integration into the curriculum.

The 2017 spring’s commitment at the Academy included ongoing collection development activities. LWB works with Miguel Angel Asturias Academy to provide opportunities for volunteers to engage in activities that will help nurture a thorough understanding of libraries, education and culture in Guatemala. The 2017 Miguel Angel Asturias Librarians Without Borders team brought with them to Guatemala over 200 books in their luggage!

Librarians Without Borders has thus made a massive difference in this community. Providing materials and education for libraries provides students with a more well-rounded education, and the communities most definitely prosper.


Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in GuatemalaEach day, 33 people become entrapped by human trafficking rings in Guatemala. Nearly 60 percent of the 50,000 victims of human trafficking in Guatemala are children, according to a report by UNICEF and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The report estimates the industry to be worth $1.6 billion a year – this number represents 2.7 percent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product.

Guatemala’s pervasive culture of gender inequality – coupled with extensive sexual abuse in the home – promotes trafficking. Often, human trafficking affects families that have already experienced domestic and sexual violence by fathers and stepfathers. The violence they experience prompts boys and girls to run away from home, leaving them prey to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Mothers who sell their children into the sex trade are often victims of trafficking or domestic abuse themselves.

In Guatemala, very few sex trafficking cases are actually detected each year – about 3 percent. Although Guatemala has adopted numerous programs and laws to tackle human trafficking, only two prosecutors work on sex trafficking cases across the country. Therefore, the number of trafficking convictions in Guatemala remains low, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In 2014, the Guatemalan authorities convicted only 20 human traffickers, according to the 2015 U.S. Department of State report on human trafficking.

Education is a key factor in eliminating human trafficking; in Guatemala it occurs largely due to the absence of family education. Illiterate or uneducated children and adults are more vulnerable to abuse. Traffickers target poor, uneducated and unemployed women and girls, luring them with promises of earning money as a waitress or model. Girls as young as 12 work in brothels and are forced to have sex with up to 30 customers a day.

Just as it plays a large role in preventing human trafficking, education also plays a critical role in helping survivors of human trafficking to escape the trauma they experience after victimization. Instruction and counseling are immense steps toward rehabilitating the survivors and reintegrating them into society. When survivors are provided with education, they gain an opportunity to “reprogram” their lives by increasing their knowledge.

All members of society in Guatemala being more educated and knowledgeable on human trafficking is essential for the defeat of traffickers. Every avenue must be explored on how to raise awareness about the nature of the crime, its causes and the damage human trafficking inflicts on its victims.

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Guatemala
The poverty rate in Guatemala is high by most standards. Guatemala is a country in Central America that is bordered by El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. It is known for its massive Lake Atitlán and ancient Mayan ruins. It is home to 16.5 million, people making it the most populous country in Central America. Although Guatemala’s official language is Spanish, 40% of its inhabitants speak Indigenous languages.

The poverty rate in Guatemala is very high. According to the World Bank, 59.3% of the population lives below the poverty line. In addition, 23% live in extreme poverty.

The indigenous people in Guatemala are most affected by poverty. In fact, 79% of them live in poverty, while 40% of them live in extreme poverty. Eight in ten indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition, a condition that weakens their immune system and does not allow their bodies to fully develop.

The indigenous population also suffers from discrimination and exclusion in Guatemalan society, which makes it difficult for them to rise out of poverty. The country’s topography also keeps indigenous people living in rural areas isolated from the rest of society, making it more difficult for them to receive help.

Income inequality is high in Guatemala. According to a study conducted by the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), 260 Guatemalans own 56% of the national economy. This means that 0.001% of the population owns more than half of the country’s wealth.

Agriculture is a very important source of revenue for Guatemala. It accounts for 20% of the GDP and employs more than 40% of the population. Main food exports include sugar, bananas, coffee and vegetables. However, due to the country’s susceptibility to natural disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and landslides, many citizens are in a constant struggle to survive and make a living.

Many NGOs stepped in to help improve the poverty rate in Guatemala. For example, The World Food Programme (WFP) delivers emergency food supplies to Guatemalans and teaches farmers how to grow more crops and better market the food they harvest. The NGO Food for The Poor brings food, medicine, and education supplies to needy communities in Guatemala.

Anna Gargiulo