Guatemala 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