I’ve been in Xela, Guatemala for about two weeks now, and just wanted to share some initial thoughts and observations. For one, the country is pretty materially poor. By that, I mean that a lot of the buildings are pretty old/damaged, the roads are pretty fucked up, the plumbing system can’t support toilet paper, the tap water isn’t suitable for drinking, etc. Basically, a lot of funds are not being put into infrastructure. I’ve learned that a lot of the challenges have to do with their being a pretty crazy oligarchy in place, in which the twenty richest families in the country run everything and the wealth isn’t really trickling down to the people. It’s also important to point out that nearly 75% of Guatemala’s population is descended from the indigenous people here, but those twenty families in power most definitely ain’t indigenous.
When I look at Guatemala, I can’t help but be reminded of a trip to Cuba I was blessed to be able to go on a couple of years ago, at least in terms of the material conditions. However, while Cuba is still a socialist country, Guatemala is a “democracy.” So, while Cuba is pretty cut off and isolated from the rest of the world (ie, US corporate interests), Guatemala has McDonalds and Wal-Mart. But what has this gotten them? Even though Cuba is just as materially poor as Guatemala seems to be, at least the government there is providing the people with their basic necessities and then some (ie, food rations, education, healthcare, etc.). Here in Guatemala, a lot of the families that I’ve talked to are struggling to pay for groceries, medication perscriptions, education costs, etc. just like families are struggling to do so in the US.
All of this is just another reminder to question what the government or the media means when they say things like “Cuba needs to open itself up to democracy.” Is it really true democracy they’re talking about, or just the desire to put in Wal-Marts and Egg McMuffins?
(A local comadrona,”midwife,” shows us an herb garden they use here at a midwife clinic they have set up for pregnant women who can’t afford the high costs of going to a private hospital.)
At the same time, I’m very inspired by the people here in Guatemala. The school I’m studying at is engaged in some real dope social justice work, and I see many women who still dress in the traditional indigenous style of clothing. I think those small acts of resistance mean a lot in terms of trying to retain culture and also hold the government and people in power here accountable.