Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poverty and victimhood

The national papers have revealed some more details about the massacre over the weekend. The campesinos who were murdered were not natives of Petén, but instead internal migrants, most of whom came from a community called Los Amates in Izabal. Seasonal or temporal internal migration has shaped life in rural communities in Guatemala for centuries, since the forced labor regimes of the colonial period (and people I know have reported that as late as the 1970s, Maya men were rounded up and forced to work building roads and other "public works" projects).  As subsistence agriculture has been undermined (by so many forces it's hard to detail without launching into a lengthy explanation: forced removals, failure of land reform, agribusiness, drop in prices for some agricultural commodities, displacement and destruction of villages due to the war), either internal or international migration often seem like the only solutions for poor rural families. One article detailed the story of one of the female victims -- a woman whose husband had died a few years ago. Her oldest son recalled that his meager salary was the family's only income and it wasn't enough, and that his mother had gone off to the Finca Las Cocos in Petén, happy that she would be earning money for her family. The communities in Izabal where the migrants lived mostly had homes built of trees (the article didn't explain more)  and boards, and people could earn Q35 a day if they succeeded selling their tomatoes, cucumbers and other products. The finca offered the security of Q50 a day.
According to the story, many of the migrant workers had returned to their natal village for Mother's Day, which is celebrated here on May 10, and then returned to the finca to work.

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