Social and Political Reality Today in Guatemala

Today Guatemala continues to struggle with a legacy of violence and extreme poverty that has endured since the Spanish invasion of 1524. In the 1980s the situation came to the attention of the outside world when violence swept the highlands in a deliberate policy of genocide against the indigenous peoples leaving 200,000 dead (80% of them Mayan), 50,000 disappeared, and 1.5 million displaced either internally or externally. There have been many calls for justice and reparations for the victims of this bloody war - the worst in the hemisphere during the 1970s and 1980s - and these demands are only just beginning to be addressed by the country's judiciary system amid a climate of continuing fear and threats against human rights workers and survivors of the genocide seeking justice.

The country is still living with this violent legacy in almost every sense. Medical care in Guatemala is woefully inadequate: about 25% of children die before they reach the age of five and malnutrition affects 50% of children. Education statistics are similarly poor: about 48% of the population is illiterate. Unemployment and underemployment stand at a startling 60%. The United Nations estimates that 80% of the population lives in poverty (measured as a daily income of $2 USD or less) and half of those, 40% of the total population, live in extreme poverty (measured as a daily income of $1 USD or less).

The peace accords signed between the government and the insurgent forces of the URNG on December 29, 1996, have opened new political space for popular organizations and progressive political parties; compliance with these accords to bring a firm and lasting peace to the country is the challenge facing the people of Guatemala. So far progress has been slow and many members of the civil movement in Guatemala assert that the social and human rights situation worsened palpably during the year 2000 following the election to power of the rightist FRG party (Republican Front of Guatemala). The FRG is led by Efraín Rios-Montt, who had previously come to power as a military dictator following a coup d'etat in 1982 and presided over Guatemala during two of the bloodiest years of its civil war. Its ranks include many politicians who have previously held military posts during the armed conflict. Many observers feel that this party does not have a genuine commitment or interest in the full and proper implementation of the peace accords.

The year 2000 saw several politically-motivated attacks on offices of leading human rights organizations, the kidnapping and torture of one human rights investigator and death threats against other human rights defenders. 2001 saw an orchestrated campaign of harassment and intimidation against independent journalists investigating corruption in government departments, attacks against high level judges in charge of politically sensitive cases (including the brutal assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi, in which military officers are among the accused), and further threats and attacks against trade unionists and human rights workers. Despite this intense pressure and very difficult conditions, the social and civil movement in Guatemala is gaining in strength and confidence and is ensuring that its voice is heard at all levels of debate in this country.

The Current Berger Administration, 2004-present

Oscar Berger´s corporate government, representing the interests of the Guatemalan oligarchy of Spanish descent, has distinguished itself by adopting measures that affect the most deprived sectors of the country negatively and by overlooking the most basic problems that the country currently faces. Education, security, health, and the economy are topics long abandoned by Berger. Public education still does not reach the entire population while the quality of instruction that does exist is neglected. Hospitals lack money in their budgets to cover medicine, which has lead to a prolonged nation-wide hospital strike, and famine afflicts many rural communities.

As far as the economy is concerned, the government has not distanced itself from its corporate affiliations contrary to popular outcry to do so. Rather, through the luxury of force, Berger has facilitated the entrance of trans-national corporations to commence unregulated mining regardless of the damage and destruction that it will cause to various communities and to the environment. In Guatemala, 54% of the population works in the informal economy yet the government ratified the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA, also known as the TLC in Spanish) amidst a climate of popular discontent and active protest against this treaty.

The current Berger government respects neither human rights, nor labor rights, nor national sovereignty. Berger has reopened old wounds by reinstituting a policy to forcibly eject, at times violently, poor campesino communities who have occupied idle land as a means to survive a life of destitute poverty. Moreover, to this day, months after Hurricane Stan devastated the country and exposed the nation’s vulnerability and vast economic inequities, there are still dozens of affected communities who have not received the minimal attention necessary to overcome this crisis.

Next door to PLQ we have the Luis Cardoza y Aragon Popular Center.
This center provides classes in art, music, computer programs and English to children of Quetzaltenango...
Proyecto Reforestación de Cantel
Many hands have left a caring imprint on that small piece of land near Cantel, and already the effects are already evident...
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