A short reflection from Guatemala

I´ve been here on holidays for a few weeks now and what is unavoidable is the level of violence that is portrayed on the media, especially in the newpapers. It even seems difficult to make a count of the numbers. There is the particularly nasty action of targetting bus drivers from the back of motorbikes. This has been suggested as being the result of not paying bribes to the local gangs through which the buses travel. Other suggestions are that this is purely an exercise on destabilising society through fear and hopelessness.
For what ends though?
 One story in the press related to the finding of a training camp for narco-traffickers in the north of the country. This training camp contained many motorbikes and the inference was that these were being used to prepare the killing of bus drivers. If this is true, it suggests that the targetting of bus drivers is part of some strategy. One thing which reflects spontaneous reactions to criminality is the seeming increase in community violence against perpertrators. Lynchings and burnings are back in the news, especially in the more remote regions. This to me reflects a growing despair in the lives of the poorest people.
 A report by UNICEF received comment today which stated that the chronic malnutrition rate for children under 5 years old was 49% for Guatemala as a whole. For the indigenous population, this stood at 70% while for San Pablo la Laguna, in Sololá, it was a dreadful 82%. These figures were the worst in Latin America, which included Haiti and Honduras. It also reported that 51.2% of the population were now living in poverty while 15.2% in extreme poverty (less than $1 per day), that is 15.2% that cannot meet basic needs for food, water, shelter, sanitation, and health care.
 On Monday 23rd, the traffic seemed particularly high and the next day the media reported not only the numbers of violent deaths but also reported that rumours were circulating the capital that a coup d´etat had taken place. This, for me, was a new addition to discussions on the state response to the violence. Yesterday, a newspaper commented on the contemporaneous public approval to previous coups with reference to a recent poll result which suggested that a military take over would be approved in order to deal with the current dreadful levels of insecurity.
 One has to wonder if there is a strategy to prepare the population for this particular type of response. Semana Santa is next week with a public holiday but Guatemala will also be full of tourists. As the temperature increases so do the tensions.

Categories: Culture

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