At the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, world leaders from rich and poor countries alike committed themselves – at the highest political level – to a set of eight time-bound targets (Millennium Development Goals – MDGs) that, when achieved, will end extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. MDG 1 aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. RTVE, the Spanish national broadcaster, broadcast a series of films promoting the MDGs and the film on MDG 1 highlighted the Mendoza family from Guatemala – Juan, Irma and their ten children survive, if that’s the word, on less than a euro a day. The family are Maya Ch’ortí’ and live in the east of Guatemala, near Jocotán, in Chiquimula.
In Guatemala, according to the film, extreme poverty has an indigenous face. Watching this film leaves you in no doubt that it is extremely hard work being poor.
We have noted previously, for example, here and here, how despite its wealth Guatemala continually fails its citizens in addressing extreme poverty. Guatemala is the 5th largest exporter of coffee and sugar as well as having the 3rd highest rate of malnourished children – in fact, 21% of the population is malnourished. A new report from Christian Aid titled, ‘Hungry for Justice: fighting hunger in an age of plenty’, tells of the iniquities in global trade where multinationals, primarily, seem to make up the prices of goods at each stage of the business chain to take advantage of national tax codes at the expense of crucial social spending like health and education. This trade ‘mis-pricing’ is akin to Robin Hood economics except in reverse – taking from the poor and giving to the rich. By way of example, the report suggests that if Guatemala received simply an average of the price of bananas in the region instead of a sum way short, they would be able to raise the US$16 million that the World Bank estimates it would cost to scale up core micronutrient nutrition interventions. Unless Guatemala’s bananas are so inferior to those produced in neighbouring countries, wholesale cheating is being carried out and Guatemala’s children are having their futures stolen by unscrupulous traders.
The report also states that of a population of 14 million inhabitants, just 195 people own 50% of the country’s total bank deposits. That is wealth inequality on a staggering scale. In addition, tax collection rates are among the lowest in the region. Guatemala, as well as collecting little and poorly, has one of the most generous tax regimes in the region. How about this – for every quetzal collected in tax, it gives back 2.5 quetzales in exemptions and deductions. You can imagine for whom the present tax code was written, and who wrote it. We also noted previously a report which suggested that the increased narco-criminality may be the spur that is needed for the economic elites (including the oligarchs) to cede some of their power to the State. Taxes would be a good place to start. Interestingly, El País features an interview with the head of SICA (Central American Integration System) who states vis-a-vis the narco- violence plaguing Guatemala that ‘it is draining the resources from education and health to combat the narco-trafficking’. I wonder if SICA is at all interested in the ability of Guatemala to raise the necessary resources in the first place instead of promoting some sham security conference featuring the so-called ‘Group of Friends’ to combat the threats from narco-trafficking in the region. This ‘Group of Friends’ strangely features Israel amongst its members – can’t be to do with facilitating the genocide in the early 1980s, must be to do with high tech security solutions it can offer at a price. This all smacks of an all too depressing scenario of being able to find the funds for guns but not bread, the debt of which poor Guatemalans and their children will have to pay off.
Returning to the report, Hungry for Justice, it talks of Chiquimula having the worst infant-mortality rate in the country – 55 deaths for each 1,000 live births, compared to 16 in the capital and when images of children from the region caught the attention of international media due to the malnutrition, the Guatemala Food Fair apparently earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the lavishness of its buffet.