And so many Guatemalans -- especially residents of the capital -- live in a climate of insecurity, uncertainty and fear. Not that this has escaped notice; the radio station that I listen to regularly, Emisoras Unidas, and the daily paper Prensa Libre, regularly report on these matters, and with a critical edge (I don't watch much Guatemalan TV so I can't tell you how the national TV stations cover this). This morning the current Archbishop of Guatemala City, Msgr. Oscar Vian Morales, in his weekly homily, argued that the lack of respect for life which characterizes the country is based in a lack of values and ethics. He also took the political parties to task for not "telling it like it is" (his exact phrase was from a biblical text where Jesus says (in the Msgr's phrasing), "hay que decir si cuando es si, y no cuando es no" -- you have to say yes when it's yes, and no when it's no.)
It is hard to read a newspaper or listen to the radio for long periods of time (at least the news stations that I favor) without feeling a sense of dismay. Today's Prensa Libre, for example, reported that yesterday (Saturday) there were 12 people who died violently in the capital and provinces. I somewhat cynically commented on Facebook that at least there were no discoveries of dismembered bodies of women -- last week there was a story about the discovery of a female victim's body parts in two different sections of the capital, Zona 5 and Zona 18.
The victims were:
- a policeman who was killed by a bullet intended for a woman who is the president of a local market in Villa Nueva (the woman, her daughter and one other person were wounded)
- the 71-year old auditor of a cooperative in Villa Nueva
- a man shot in Zona 11
- a taxi driver shot to death in Zona 8
- a prison guard in Jutiapa
- a 33-year old man in Tecún Umán, San Marcos
- 3 men died in Huehuetenango (a western department). 1 "perished" (with no further details) and the other two were killed by gunshot.
- two men were "terminated" ("ultimados") in Suchitepequez
- one man was shot to death in Chimaltenango at km 54.5 of the Panamericana.
So that is unfortunately not a atypical day. People do die of non-violent causes: two people, a man and a woman, died today as a result of serious injuries sustained Friday as they were on their way to receive the Mi Familia Progresa (Mifapro) benefits promised by the government. They were traveling in a "picop" (pick up truck) from their rural aldea to the municipality where the benefits were being handed out, and apparently twenty or so of the passengers were taken to the hospital with injuries (no details about what the nature of the accident was). The driver fled the scene.
To give you a sense of the endemic and pervasive racism, I'll turn to the online comments that accompanied this article (a common theme is that the president is an hijo de p.... or worse). Although the names of the victims were not published (they are waiting for the families to claim the bodies first), it seems logical to assume that the majority of the beneficiaries are indigenous since they are the poorest of the poor. So many of the commentaries used terms like "indios malditos" (evil little Indians -- "indios" itself is a derogatory term), "indios de mierda" ("shitty Indians"), "estúpidos" (do I need to translate that) and "burros" (again, I think no translation needed). Although some commentators took the others to task for being racist, one commentator suggested that the shitty ignoramuses were just traumatized leftists and that they would have been better off sucking the president's dick for the 300 little quetzales they were given.
It is hard to know how representative these commentators are of popular opinion in Guatemala. In communities like Chinique where there are not a lot of non-indigenous people, one does not hear a lot of overtly racist comments, or at least not in public (what Ladinos say to each other about indigenous people behind closed doors is another story -- Charles Hale has explored this territory at least among Chimaltenango's Ladino population). I have spent most of my time with indigenous people so I haven't been privy to those private conversations among Ladinos. According to some new acquaintances I made who live in Panajachel, there is a fair amount of racist commentary in the town. Panajachel is perched at the edge of Lago Atitlán, and has been a favored tourist destination. Friends recalled it being a hippie haven in the 1970s, and it currently attracts day trippers as well as overnight visitors; its main street is lined with tourist-friendly shops (including many that appear to promote fair trade and support community development projects). My acquaintances who live in the town say that there is a lot of resentment from the non-indigenous town residents of the indigenous people who come in from outlying areas to sell trinkets to tourists, and that they hear a lot of racist commentary. The center of town is pretty much given over to tourist-related enterprises (hotels, restaurants, gift shops) and one strip of Calle Santander is pretty much wall-to-wall vendors and stores, a few of which seem to cater to the resident population. I only spent a few hours in Pana, and most of it in the headquarters of a fair-trade non-profit that works with indigenous women, so I didn't get much of a sense of the town, but I will rely upon my informants who live there.